florida tenant vaccine

Are Tenants Really Required To Be Vaccinated?

Landlords have made many absurd demands in the past. As COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out, can landlords require these shots, too? Let’s take a look at the legality of the Florida tenant vaccine requirement.


An Introduction to the Florida Tenant Vaccine Issue

When the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States in 2020, it was nearly impossible to go anywhere without fear of contracting the illness. Everywhere you went — from grocery stores to restaurants — there was a chance of running into someone sick with the virus. Even your own neighbors in your condo or apartment building could have it.

At that point, there was nothing much anyone could do except practice social distancing, frequent hand washing, and mask wearing. When the COVID-19 vaccines started to roll out, though, things began to take a turn for the better. The vaccines offered protection and helped usher in some semblance of normalcy. Suddenly, there was something people could do to safeguard themselves and others from the virus.

However, the breakthrough of COVID-19 vaccines introduced another problem: whether or not requiring them breached the rights of people. Getting the vaccine is a choice, and some businesses even received backlash for only serving vaccinated patrons. This conflict has since spread elsewhere, affecting even landlords and tenants.


A Case That Sparked Debate

A landlord in Florida recently made headlines for requiring his tenants to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before moving in or renewing their lease. Santiago A. Alvarez, who owns some 1,200 units in South Florida, made the announcement through his management company. While many of Alvarez’s tenants and employees praised the decision, it did not please one of his tenants, Jasmine Irby.

After she complained to her landlord and the management company about the policy, Irby took the matter to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There was some back and forth between the lawyers of the two parties. In the end, Irby backed down and moved out of her two-bedroom apartment.


Can Landlords Require the COVID Vaccine for Tenants?

It is not uncommon for landlords to impose restrictions and requirements on tenants. For instance, a landlord may prohibit tenants from keeping pets on the premises. When it comes to vaccinations, though, the subject gets trickier to navigate.

As the more contagious delta variant makes its way across the nation, President Joe Biden urged state officials to come up with stricter mandates for vaccines and mask wearing. Biden even required the vaccine for all federal employees and contractors as well as health workers in Medicare- and Medicaid-funded facilities.

florida apartment vaccine requirementYet, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued executive orders prohibiting government entities and businesses from requiring “patrons or customers” to show their proof of vaccination. DeSantis, who already completed his vaccination, even publicly said that it remains a personal choice.

In the case of the South Florida apartment vaccine requirement, Alvarez came to such a decision in an effort to protect his tenants and employees. Irby’s attorney accused Alvarez of breaching the executive order DeSantis issued.

However, Alvarez’s attorney argued that his client had not done anything illegal because tenants are not “patrons or customers.” Moreover, no other state laws or local ordinances are being violated. Since unvaccinated persons are not classified as a protected class under federal or state law, one cannot argue unlawful discrimination either.

A spokeswoman for DeSantis, Christina Pushaw, though, told the Washington Post that Alvarez “can’t require vaccine passports as a condition of entry or service.”


What About HOAs and Condo Associations?

Homeowners and condo associations are not immune to the questions surrounding mandatory vaccinations. Unlike the issue with the Florida tenant vaccine, HOAs and COAs are much more complex. Provided they are not in breach of fair housing laws, landlords generally have complete authority over their rental properties.

Associations, on the other hand, can’t exercise the same control over their members. An HOA or COA board has limited authority, and that does not include power over someone’s personal health or choice.

Additionally, requiring residents to get the shot presents another problem with tracking and verification. If an HOA or condo community decides that vaccination is mandatory, the board will need to come up with a system to confirm the status of each resident. This may include asking for a person’s medical records, which violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

There is also a risk of backlash from residents who refuse to get the vaccine. Things could quickly turn sour and even escalate to physical conflict.


Mandatory Vaccination Alternatives for Associations

Instead of requiring the vaccine, there are some less invasive methods an HOA can use to help mitigate the risk of infection.


Implement Health Standards

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, community associations have been implementing health protocols as advised by the CDC. As a way to protect residents and employees, HOAs and condos should continue with these guidelines.

Boards can require residents and employees to wear masks in indoor public spaces as well as practice social distancing. Common areas should also have hand-sanitizing stations to encourage proper hygiene. If necessary, you can also adopt a reservation system for amenities and common facilities.

More importantly, the association should ensure that common areas remain clean. Adjust cleaning schedules so that you clean and disinfect these spaces more frequently than usual.


Look for Vaccinated Vendors

While requiring the vaccine for residents remains controversial, HOA boards may have more breathing room with vendors. You can make it a part of your vendor matrix to choose vendors whose employees are fully vaccinated. This protects both their employees, your association’s employees, and the community’s residents.


Make a Gentle Recommendation

It is not a good idea to force residents to get the vaccine. But, that does not mean your board can’t make a gentle recommendation. Post an announcement or send a letter outlining the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine. Exercise caution with the wording here. You don’t want to give the impression of requiring the vaccine.


No Clear Direction (Right Now)

The issue with the Florida tenant vaccine requirement is certainly complicated, and one that will undoubtedly inspire other landlords to do the same. As mandatory vaccination is still a fairly new topic in the landlord-tenant community, it is hard to say whether or not it violates the law. While there are no clear statutes as of now, there will likely be clarifications in the future.

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