Is it legal for landlords to require COVID-19 vaccinations for tenants?
The answer depends on the state in which your rental property is located, the current lease, and your tenant's reason for refusing vaccination. As you'll read below, it can get complicated.
In most states, landlords may require COVID-19 vaccinations for new tenants before they sign a lease. Similarly, landlords may require existing tenants to get a vaccination before renewing the lease. Leases are private agreements between landlords and tenants. Once signed, both landlord and tenant are bound by its terms. A lease may contain any terms that comply with federal, state, and local laws. If a tenant violates any terms in the lease, a landlord may send an Eviction Notice.
So far, Arizona, Florida, and Montana are the only states that ban discrimination against tenants based on COVID-19 vaccination status. Other state and federal laws ban discrimination based on disability or religious beliefs, which may apply in some situations. A Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney can help you comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws.
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), for example, requires landlords to provide reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities. Refusing to rent to a tenant who cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to a disability may violate the FHA. Although the FHA also bans religious discrimination, the law is less clear on whether landlords are required to provide tenants religious accommodations, and what those accommodations might be.
These are nuanced and complicated legal issues. However, you are not powerless to protect yourself, your employees or service providers, and your tenants against COVID-19, even if one tenant claims an exemption based on disability or religious beliefs. If a tenant refuses a vaccination based on a disability or religious belief, communicate with the tenant to find a suitable alternative. The tenant may agree to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and provide you with the results, or to wear a mask in common areas and when you or service providers are in their unit.
How can landlords enforce vaccination policies?
The lease is the landlord's most effective tool to enforce vaccination policies. Requiring new tenants to provide Proof of Vaccination before signing a lease is the simplest method.
For existing tenants, you should publicize your new vaccination policy by posting notices in common areas and providing those notices directly to tenants. Seek agreement from existing tenants to abide by the vaccination policy and memorialize their agreement in a Lease Amendment.
Once your vaccination policy is part of the lease, you may enforce it like any other lease term. If a tenant is out of compliance, notify them of the terms of the lease and give them a specified timeframe to comply. If the tenant fails to comply, you may serve them with an Eviction Notice.
If an existing tenant refuses to sign a Lease Amendment related to the vaccination policy, inform them that vaccination will be a requirement to renew the lease. If they persist, you may issue a Notice of Non-Renewal as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
Can landlords offer incentives to get tenants vaccinated?
Yes. You may enter a contract with any individual for virtually any reason, including providing tenants with cash, gift cards, incentives, or bonus services in exchange for their COVID-19 vaccinations. Some cities and states are doing this themselves to boost vaccination rates. New York City, for example, offers residents a $100 prepaid debit card if they get vaccinated at certain sites. However, as federal, state, and local laws adapt to new legal issues brought about by the pandemic, you may want to check in with a lawyer before deciding to offer incentives for vaccinations. A brief consultation can help ensure your good intentions do not land you in legal trouble.
Can landlords raise the rent on tenants who refuse to get vaccinated?
Generally, landlords may raise the rent on existing tenants for any reason, so long as those reasons are not discriminatory and the lease and local law allows it.
If the reason for raising the rent is due to the increased costs attributable to the unvaccinated tenant, it may be reasonable. Certain civil rights protections, such as the ADA and FHA, however, might prohibit landlords from charging more if disability or religious objections are the basis of the refusal. While these situations are rare, it is usually worthwhile for landlords to seek legal advice before taking action to avoid potential state and federal civil rights violations.
Can landlords require vaccinations for employees?
Landlords that have employees may require both new and existing employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment. Some states, however, have banned vaccine mandates as a condition of public employment, and Montana has extended this ban to private employers.
While employers may require employee vaccination, state and federal laws might prevent landlords from disciplining or refusing to hire employees who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability or for religious reasons. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires the same for employees with religious beliefs.
In either case, employers must provide the employee with an exemption or demonstrate that the employee's refusal to get vaccinated poses a "direct threat" to others within the workplace or on the property. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has clarified that direct threat assessments for COVID-19 must be based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current scientific knowledge about COVID-19.
If one of your employees or resident property managers claims a Vaccine Exemption based on disability or religious beliefs, you may want to discuss the matter with an attorney. You might be required to develop a reasonable accommodation that will protect you, any other employees, and your tenants. The EEOC suggests requiring masks, providing a staggered shift or telework option, screening for symptoms, or making changes to improve safety.
If you have legal questions about developing a vaccine policy for your rental, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for guidance.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.