no shot

Posted October 11, 2021 by Taylor Sedlacek

"Does a no-tolerance policy forcing people to choose between bodily autonomy and keeping their homes really make sense?"

No Shot, No Shelter, No Sense

By: Taylor Sedlacek

October 11, 2021

As millions of Americans are struggling to keep their homes with the end of the federal eviction moratorium, one South Florida landlord could be exacerbating the housing crisis with his new vaccination policy.[1]

Santiago Alvarez, the owner of approximately 1,200 units in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, began enforcing a strict, no-tolerance policy in mid-August that’s been the subject of much debate.[2] The policy requires new tenants to show proof of vaccination before moving in and existing tenants to show proof of vaccination before renewing their lease.[3] In an interview with The Post, the landlord explained his stance as, “[y]ou don’t want to get vaccinated? You have to move . . . [a]nd if you don’t move, one must move forward with eviction.”[4]

The landlord claims he is trying to look out for the best interests of his tenants by enforcing the policy; however, some tenants feel deeply uncomfortable about landlords requiring tenants to disclose personal health information to renew their leases.[5] One tenant, who happened to be vaccinated, stated that Alvarez’s policy was an overstep and “should be illegal.”[6] Another tenant, Jasmine Irby, had her lawyer send a letter to Mr. Alvarez arguing that his policy violated Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning businesses and government entities from requiring “patrons or customers” to show proof of vaccination.[7] According to DeSantis’ press secretary, Chistina Purshaw, landlords violating the “vaccine passport” ban could face “a $5,000 fine every time they ask a prospective tenant for documentation.”[8] Additionally, after speaking with the governor’s legal counsel, Purshaw confirmed that such policy “would be a violation of the vaccine passport ban.” [9] Yet, in his response to Ms. Irby’s letter, Mr. Alvarez’s attorney, Juan C. Zorrilla of Fowler White Burnett, claimed quite the contrary.

According to Zorrilla, Mr. Alvarez’s policy does not violate the executive order “because a tenant is not a ‘patron’ or ‘customer.’”[10] “By only identifying two categories of people who are transient, we do not believe the Order would be interpreted by a court to include tenants or residents of a business or property,” said Zorilla.[11] Additionally, unlike restaurants and other businesses open to the public, proponents of Alvarez’s policy point to the fact that the “landlord-tenant relationship is contractually based,” as support for it passing legal scrutiny.[12] However, those skeptical of the policy question not only its efficacy in controlling the spread of COVID-19 but also the constitutionality of such policies, especially given the disparity in vaccination among minorities.[13] 

With respect to controlling the spread of COVID-19, those in opposition to the policy claim it goes against the rationale given to justify eviction moratoriums when the pandemic began. For example, according to Brian Korte, an eviction attorney in West Palm Beach, allowing landlords to bar or evict unvaccinated applicants and tenants “undermines the goals of keeping people in their homes and off of the streets where they would be more likely to spread the virus.”[14] However, National Multifamily Housing Council official, Paula Cino, disagreed with such assertion and stated, “[i]f a housing environment could lead to infection risk, it makes sense for providers to take steps to mitigate that risk.”[15] Cino also noted that landlords must ensure that their policies are “evenly applied” and do not “violate fair housing laws.”[16]

However, while vaccination status is not a protected category under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, policies that disproportionately affect members of a protected class have been found to be discriminatory.[17] Given that Black Americans make up only 10% of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine,[18] many critics of Alvarez’s policy worry that barring and evicting the unvaccinated could have a disproportionate impact on people of color.[19] Although speaking about vaccine mandates generally, Black Lives Matter New York Chapter leader, Hawk Newsome, voiced adamant disapproval, arguing that such mandates “exclud[e] a tremendous amount of Black [Americans], from engaging in everyday actions.”[20] Newsome went on to say, “[i]t’s an individual’s choice. No one should be forced to put something in their body.”[21]

While it remains to be seen whether Alvarez’s policy will withstand legal scrutiny, many tenants may soon find themselves in the exact situation Newsome described. And given this nation’s current housing crisis that only continues to grow, does a no-tolerance policy forcing people to choose between bodily autonomy and keeping their homes really make sense?

[1] Andrea Salcedo, Landlord says tenants must get COVID vaccine: ‘You don’t want to get vaccinated? You have to move’, The Washington Post (Sept. 15, 2021, 5:31 AM), [].

[2] Gustaf Kilander, Florida landlord to evict tenants who refuse to get vaccinated, INDEPENDENT (Sept. 15, 2021, 11:12 PM), [].

[3] Id.

[4] Salcedo, supra note 1.

[5] Kilander, supra note 2.

[6] Fla. Landlord Mandating Vaccines for Tenants. But Is It Legal?, Florida Realtors (Sept. 8, 2021).

[7] Kilander, supra note 2.

[8] Florida Realtors, supra note 6.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Jonathan Tobin, Vaccine Mandates Will Have a Disparate Impact on Minorities, Newsweek (Aug. 17, 2021, 7:00 AM), [].

[14] Florida Realtors, supra note 6.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Tobin, supra note 13.

[18] Armstrong Williams, Why aren’t Black Americans getting vaccinated?, The Hill (Aug. 27, 3:00 PM), [].

[19] Florida Realtors, supra note 6.

[20] Khaleda Rahman, Vaccine Mandates Put Black Lives Matter Activists on Collision Course With Democrats, Newsweek (Sept. 23, 2021, 4:39 AM), [].

[21] Derek Major, Leader of Black Lives Matter New York Chapter Calls Vaccine Mandates 'Racist and Disrespectful', Black Enterprise (Sept. 23, 2021),[].

Monday, October 11, 2021