As a property manager, you may come across landlords that want to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations. The pandemic has caused significant discussion and, in some cases, debate about whether vaccination should be compulsory or not. Whether it’s legal for landlords to impose these mandates on tenants is largely dependent on what state the property is in. In many states, this hasn’t yet been tested in the courts. That means it’s a gray area that can potentially cause property managers challenges.
We’ll look at the potential risks for property managers and some real cases that have been reported in the media. And we’ll also talk about what you can do to prevent a claim against you and protect your property management business.
Potential Risks for Property Managers
Landlords, especially those who own apartment buildings and properties with multiple tenants, want to provide a COVID-free environment for their residents. Many US States have liability shield laws that can provide immunity from liability for COVID exposure on their business premises. These laws protect against lawsuits as long as there is no reckless or intentional misconduct. So, landlords still have a responsibility to have policies in place to keep their residents safe.
While there have been few reports of vaccine mandates in residential settings, some landlords have tried to minimize the risk of a COVID outbreak in their buildings by imposing extra safety measures. Property managers, as the “middle-man” between landlords and tenants, can get drawn into issues. Some of these issues can have legal ramifications.
As a property manager, you need to be aware of federal and state anti-discrimination laws as well as orders relating to COVID-19. Tenancy decisions based on a tenant’s COVID vaccination status may conflict with legislation in some states.
You also need to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act. While the Act doesn’t cover vaccination status, a tenant may not have had the COVID-19 vaccine due to a disability. And, you cannot refuse a rental application on the basis of a person’s disability.
At the heart of a landlord/tenant relationship is the tenancy agreement. A property manager can’t impose or enforce anything on the tenant that hasn’t been agreed upon in the tenancy agreement. For example, a landlord cannot simply impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on existing tenants when this was not in their tenancy agreement.
Inman reported late last year that a Florida landlord of 1200 rental units imposed a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on new tenants. He also required proof of vaccination for existing tenants before renewing leases. The mandate had a mixed response from tenants, with one tenant arguing that imposing mandatory vaccinations broke the FL Government order that banned vaccine passports. The landlord’s legal team has stated that, as renters are occupants of a dwelling and not patrons of a business, the mandates do not conflict with this order.
In November 2021, a Federal judge ruled against a Federal Government vaccine mandate for federal landlords and their subcontractors in Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky in a preliminary injunction. This was a case involving leased workspaces and was not a residential case.
Overall, there have been very few reports of commercial landlords trying to impose vaccine mandates. Efforts have been focused instead on increased cleaning measures, sanitization and other preventive measures such as gloves and mask-wearing.
Tips to Avoid a COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Lawsuit
The number one top tip for property managers is to keep updated on the latest COVID-19 orders, as well as local, state and federal laws and regulations.
Other ways you can perhaps avoid a lawsuit:
- Ensure your landlord clients are aware of the laws in your area, so they can avoid an anti-discrimination lawsuit. Encourage them to get independent legal advice before imposing mandates.
- Talk to landlords about other ways they can keep their buildings and tenants safe aside from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. For example, increased cleaning and sanitation, ensuring HVAC systems are regularly cleaned and serviced, and mask-wearing in common areas.
- Check all tenancy agreements thoroughly to ensure they are lawful and don’t have any clauses that conflict with COVID orders or local, state or federal laws.
- If in doubt about a specific issue, seek legal advice before doing anything further.
- Protect yourself with a real estate E&O insurance policy to help you defend against a lawsuit if a claim is made against you.
Protect Yourself With CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent®
As a property manager, you need a property management errors and omissions insurance policy to protect you if something goes wrong. With a CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent® policy, you’ll even get pre-claim access to our expert team of real estate attorneys who can provide you with legal advice and support when you need it.
CRES insurance policies can be tailored specifically to suit the risks your business faces each and every day. As part of one of the largest insurance brokers in the world, we have unequaled access to more insurance options for real estate professionals than just about anyone else. We can find you the best protection for the best price.
Contact the CRES team at 800-880-274 for a confidential discussion today.