A South Florida landlord has taken a hard stance after so many of his tenants died from the coronavirus: He's mandating the vaccine for all his residents and property employees.
Santiago Alvarez is standing by his decision, even though he's in hot water with the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on masks has made national news, with fines being levied on schools and government agencies that still require people to wear masks. Now, $5,000 fines will be issued to owners of establishments where proof of vaccination is required for entry.
It's an understatement to say that the vaccine has become politicized during the pandemic, as has the requirement to show proof of vaccination. While landlords have a duty to provide their tenants with safe housing, mandating vaccination could be a bridge too far, particularly in communities that are highly polarized on the issue.
As of this writing, the CDC reports that about 77% of the adult population in the United States has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Three in four adults might sound promising, but those numbers look a bit different at the state level. The Mayo Clinic reports that 66.7% of Floridians have received at least one jab, while only 57% are fully vaccinated. If Alvarez were marketing to tenants throughout Florida, he'd be losing out on 43% of potential tenants.
Good intentions or grounds for discrimination?
Lurking behind those numbers are demographics that may tell a darker story of what landlords who mandate the vaccine are trying to do.
The CDC reports vaccination demographics at the national level, though not the state level. As of late September, the CDC had data on 59% of those individuals who had received at least one dose: 60% are White, 17% are Hispanic, 10% are Black, 6% are Asian, 1% are American Indian or Alaska Native, less than 1% are Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and 5% of people reported multiple or other races.
Vaccinations among Black and Hispanic people are lower compared to their proportion of cases, deaths, and population in more than half of reporting states. Recent vaccination numbers are increasing in the Hispanic and Black communities compared to others, but a landlord who is requiring the vaccination could be seen, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as discriminating against these minorities.
I spoke with my fellow Millionacres contributor, Laura Agadoni, to get a landlord's perspective. She lives in Marietta, Georgia, and owns a number of single-family homes in the metro Atlanta region.
"It makes me wonder whether it’s really the unvaccinated that this landlord objects to or whether he’s just discriminating against certain populations," Agadoni says. "This landlord is opening himself to lawsuits. I recommend landlords just stay in their lane."
The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disabilities when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, or seeking housing assistance.
"Mandating the vaccine for all new tenants or tenants who want to renew their lease does not on its face violate the Fair Housing Act," says Michael Fourte, JD, MBA, CIPS and broker/owner of Fourte International Real Estate in Verona, New Jersey. "But if you own a building in a place where you have minorities not getting vaccinated, it certainly could have a discriminatory impact."
Landlords can get a bad rap for not always keeping the best interests of their tenants at heart. Here is a situation in which it seems the landlord is trying too hard, and it could backfire with a diminished tenant pool at best and potential lawsuits at worst. Landlords would likely be better off incentivizing tenants who have gotten the vaccination, be it gift cards to local vendors or even discounts on rent.
The bottom line
Politics aside, if you are a landlord thinking of mandating vaccination for your tenants, your good intentions in keeping everyone safe will not always be perceived that way. Depending on the regulations in your state, you will likely get fined. You could be accused of housing discrimination by unvaccinated tenants. And if you live in a community that is split down the middle when it comes to getting vaccinated, then you need to be prepared to have a much smaller tenant pool to fill your vacancies.