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Property Managers Have A Part To Play In The Mass Vaccination Effort

Though off to a sluggish start, the drive to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus is picking up speed. Many states are now moving from vaccinating health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, the first phase of the government's rollout, to front-line essential workers and other essential workers, who make up Phases 1A and 1B of the rollout, respectively.

Apartment property managers and their staff, who have frequent interaction with residents, count as essential workers, according to government guidelines, since residential properties are part of the country's critical infrastructure sector

As the vaccine rollout moves along, apartment property managers will play a direct role in getting their employees vaccinated and an indirect role in the vaccination of their residents by providing information. 


"Staff will definitely have to be vaccinated," said Paper City Real Estate founder Gardner Rivera, whose company develops and owns apartments in northern New Jersey.

The process will represent a short-term challenge for apartment management, he said.

"I feel we'll get to the point where there will temporarily be some badge or ID separating the vaccinated from those who haven't been," Rivera said, adding that that delineation would require property managers to keep careful track of the process.

So far there is little evidence of pushback against mandatory vaccination at workplaces, perhaps because such mandates are still mostly hypothetical. Even most health care facilities haven't yet mandated the shots, Medscape reports, because, on the whole, health care workers see the value of the vaccination and have been willing to get them.

Facebook, Marriott and Discover Financial are examples of large companies that have said they will not mandate vaccines, but they will strongly encourage them, LinkedIn reports. Employers are about evenly divided over the necessity of vaccine mandates, according to a survey by LinkedIn.

Some companies have rolled out incentives for their employees to get vaccinated, such as Dollar General, Aldi, Trader Joe's and Instacart, USA Today reports. All of those operations, like property management, have large numbers of workers that interact with the general public.

"Front-line workers of a housing authority or even a private company that manages properties can require their employees to be vaccinated as a part of their employment, with the exceptions required under federal law for religious exemptions and certain medical conditions," said Michael Urban, a senior lecturer at the University of New Haven and a health care policy expert.

For the better part of a year, apartment community employees have been responsible for the health and safety of residents, most of whom are spending more time than ever in their apartments, National Multifamily Housing Council Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications Colin Dunn said.

"As the rollout of vaccines continues, apartment employees, residents and their communities will be best protected by robust vaccine distribution, plus educational efforts to promote acceptance throughout the country," Dunn said.

As of the end of January, about 30.5 million COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in the United States, beginning on Dec. 14 with health care workers, according to a tally by Bloomberg and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the week of Jan. 17, an average of 1.27 million doses per day were given.

On Jan. 26, President Joe Biden estimated that 300 million Americans would have shots by the end of this summer, though that depends on two vaccine manufacturers successfully ramping up their production, The New York Times reports.

“As we have throughout the pandemic, NAA strongly encourages all members and individuals in the rental housing sector to follow the guidelines and regulations set forth by public health officials and their physicians,” National Apartment Association President and CEO Bob Pinnegar said in an email to Bisnow. "This includes recommendations regarding the COVID-19 vaccine."


In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued information for employers and employees about how a COVID-19 vaccination interacts with other federal laws governing employment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Generally, it is against the law for employers to pry into their employees' health, though there are exceptions related to job safety. But if a vaccine is administered for protection against COVID-19, the employer isn't seeking information about an individual’s current health status, so it doesn't count as a medical inquiry, the EEOC says.

But it isn't quite that simple, especially if an employer requires an employee to receive a vaccination administered under the auspices of the employer, as might be the case with a large property management company. In that case, the employer must show that these disability-related screening inquiries are “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” Urban said.

"To meet this standard, an employer would need to have a reasonable belief that an employee who doesn't answer the questions, and so doesn't receive a vaccination, will pose a direct threat to the health or safety of her or himself or others," Urban said.

Even with the staff being vaccinated, they should still be adhering to the standards that have become so familiar since March 2020: mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing. That will help to decrease their chances of contracting COVID-19, as the vaccine isn't 100% effective at keeping those vaccinated from contracting the disease or spreading the virus that causes it, or other illnesses such as the flu. 

Management should also continue to adhere to high cleanliness standards, Rivera said.

"The silver lining is that owners hopefully will increase cleanliness and the maintenance in their buildings," Rivera said. "This means real education to the maintenance staff on techniques and disinfectant cleaners. For mom-and-pop owners, it might take a while, but I think we as an industry will get serious about pristine common spaces."

Landlords can't require tenants to be vaccinated, Urban said, and it might be discriminatory under federal and most state laws to require proof of vaccination to receive services while restricting others who either could not or chose not to be vaccinated.

"Overall, the best guidance if you are a property owner of any size building is to encourage and disseminate your local testing sites and vaccination procedures to all your tenants," Urban said. 

Property owners and managers can continue to restrict capacity or close any shared spaces. Management should also remove any furniture in areas that would impede physical distancing, Urban said.

"If people ask why they need to still adhere to the mask-wearing and other restrictions even though they are vaccinated, the simple answer is that the vaccines are 95% effective and take time to build up to that immunity," Urban said. "The longer we allow this virus to continue, the more risk of variants to emerge will occur, which could jeopardize the effectiveness of the vaccine."