Can landlords force a ‘vaccinate or get out’ ultimatum? Depends on circumstances

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A Florida landlord is adding a new twist to the controversy over vaccine mandates. He’s now requiring tenants to get vaccinated or their leases won’t be renewed. Could that mandate hold up in New York?

Legal minds are inclined to say, maybe — under certain circumstances. If the landlord is using the vaccine mandate as a weapon against a tenant he or she wants to get rid of — no way.

But if the landlord can show it is to protect the health and safety of tenants, it is possible.

The Fair Housing Law contains a number of protections for tenants against discrimination by landlords based on race, religion, gender, and disability. The Florida landlord who touched off the controversy might have a tough time enforcing the vaccine mandate in his own state due to Florida’s prohibition against mandates by businesses and employers, says attorney Bob Bianchi.

“Usually, landlords, under the law are going to given a great wide breadth of discretion to do what they think is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. But now you have a state law that says Mr. Alvarez you cannot do this,” Bianchi said.

But Buffalo attorney Grace Andriette, of Neighborhood Legal Services, says a tenant can be excluded from a mandate for medical reasons among others.

“There are legal protections for tenants who are challenged by disability, and the Fair Housing Law would protect individuals who say no I cannot be vaccinated because of a physical disability,” said Andriette.

What legitimate concern might a landlord have for forcing tenants to be vaccinated? Andriette says in a multiple unit setting where common areas or elevators bring people into close contact.

“In an apartment building where tenants are using an elevator to access the higher floors, or in situations where there is a large lobby where people congregate,” Andriette added.

Andriette is concerned a landlord might invoke the mandate to get around the eviction moratorium.

“We are going to give you 30 days to get vaccinated or not, then when a tenant refuses to get a vaccination, the landlord might try to use that as a basis for eviction.”

But Andriette says the federal HIPAA Law likely would not be in play because it does not apply to landlords.. it protects confidentiality when providers of health care or insurance are involved.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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