After being displaced by the Barrie tornado last month, Brenda Devitt was served an N7 from her landlord to terminate the tenancy, in part, because she had a vaccinated guest to her new home.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Last week, the Toronto Star published a storey that documented how Dewitt -- who lives in the basement and shares a kitchen and bathroom with another tenant, while landlord Geraldine Fry lives upstairs -- was told she broke the rules of the house.
According to the landlord, the property is an “unvaccinated house.” No exceptions.
“This is an unvaccinated house and contrary to landlords’ expressed wishes, you are having vaccinated visitors on a daily basis,” the N7 reads, according to Toronto Star.
The publication reports that conversations were had between Fry and Dewitt regarding the home and its guests strictly staying unvaccinated, but Dewitt didn’t think it would be an issue to have vaccinated guests over throughout the day. The N7 also outlined issues with Dewitt’s cleanliness and alleged smoking indoors (she denies smoking in the home).
Fry refunded Dewitt one month’s worth of rent and Dewitt is reluctantly leaving, perhaps for more vaccine-friendly pastures.
Ampoules with Covid-19 vaccine on a laboratory bench.
As the Delta variant continues to cast uncertainty over the future, a growing number of organizations -- from workplaces to restaurants -- are now requiring proof of vaccine. And we assume more will come. While Premier Doug Ford has spoken out about a desire to avoid a “divided society,” last week, Mayor John Tory even hinted at the prospect of a vaccine passport becoming a reality in Toronto.
But how does the vaccine debate impact the housing market, especially with respect to renters?
Naturally -- especially in shared living spaces -- it’s safe to assume that vaccine conversations (or passionate debates) are currently happening between roommates, landlords, and tenants. At the current moment (understanding things are perpetually changing in our current climate), it’s illegal to evict someone based on their vaccine status. Furthermore, nobody should be denied housing based on their vaccine status, say professionals.
So, things could get awkward. And potentially more heated. Especially in the likelihood that a vaccine becomes a requirement to keeping a half-decent roof above one’s head.
“Landlords aren’t able to ask you about your private medical history and doing so could be a violation of your privacy,” Geordie Dent, Executive Director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, told STOREYS in June.
At the same time, Tony Irwin, President and CEO of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario stressed that keeping their residents and frontline staff safe in these times is the top priority.
“The Roadmap to Reopen plan in Ontario is tied to vaccination rates, so getting all Ontarians vaccinated remains a key focus for our members,” says Irwin. “Rental-housing providers continue to be informed by public health advice and guidance in determining appropriate operational plans and procedures.”
While any potential rules and regulations are yet to be determined when it comes to vaccine status in condos and apartment buildings, special considerations may be granted in situations like Dewitt’s where certain spaces in a home – bathrooms, kitchens, and living areas – are shared with other tenants.
Bob Murphy, chair of Weston ACORN, worries that vaccine status could be used as a tool to “get tenants out” in our current rent control-lacking rental market in an attempt to jack up the rent for the next tenant. “It’s of the advantage of the landlord to get long-time tenants out; it’s a matter of dollars and cents,” says Murphy. "They will use vaccine status as something to bully their tenants and make them want to leave."
Landlords aren't regulated, so there's nothing in place currently to stop them from at least trying to use things like vaccine status to evict a tenant, says Murphy. “The reality is that it’s really difficult for a tenant to take action against an unscrupulous or predatory landlord, especially if they’re in a building with less than 10 units,” he says.
Whether Murphy's predictions materialize remains to be seen. But we have a feeling this is far from the last we'll hear about the impact of vaccine status on Canada's housing market. And it will undoubtedly get as heated as the market itself.