Should Landlords Disclose COVID-19 Status of Tenants?

April 7, 2020

Building owners and homeowner association boards aren’t legally required to disclose if a tenant tests positive for COVID-19, real estate attorneys say. But they say city laws are changing quickly and COVID-19 disclosure requirement disclosures could change too.

Many landlords are reportedly telling tenants when a case of a COVID-19 infection surfaces in their buildings, even though they're not required to do so. Some are sending emails or a memo to tenants to let them know when one of their neighbors has contracted the virus so that they can take extra precautions.

However, real estate attorneys are warning property managers and boards not to reveal who contracted the virus or which unit they live in. Also, the resident cannot be evicted because they’re sick.

“From a legal perspective, we’re in uncharted territory,” Scott Moore, a housing attorney with Baird Holm in Omaha, Neb., told realtor.com®. “The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits inquiries into whether a tenant has a disability and the nature and extent of their disabilities. That would include questions about medical conditions.”

Some property managers are unsure how much they should reveal, particularly if they have elderly or vulnerable populations in their buildings who may be most at risk of COVID-19. Some property managers may disclose the floor the sick person lives on, but some real estate attorneys caution that even that information could be jeopardizing the resident’s privacy.

"Disclosing against the wishes of the infectee could potentially expose the board to a lawsuit," Aaron Shmulewitz, an attorney with Belkin Burden Goldman in New York City who represents co-op and condo boards, told realtor.com®. But buildings that fail to disclose an infected person lives there also could be putting them at risk of a lawsuit, adds Michael Spence, a real estate attorney with Helsell Fetterman in Seattle.

Legally, tenants do not have to let anyone in the building know about their health conditions and whether they have COVID-19. Ethically, some are arguing they should so that building managers and tenants can take more proactive measures.

“There’s no legal playbook for any of this,” Shmulewitz says.

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