Can a Property Owner Require Residents and Visitors to Wear Masks?

May 2020

Requiring Residents and Visitor to Wear Masks

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Health Canada now recommends that individuals wear non-medical masks/face-coverings when there is a risk that social distancing (consistently maintaining at least a 2 meters physical distance from other individuals) is not possible.[1] Consequently, many commercial businesses have instituted policies requiring customers to wear a facemask. If customers are not in possession of a facemask, these policies allow for other forms of face-coverings such as scarves or bandannas.

To aid in the response to COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus, landlords and property managers may consider requiring residents, visitors and staff to wear a face-covering when they are in common areas. Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords are responsible for ensuring that the residential complex complies with health, safety, and maintenance standards.[2] While not required, policies that ask or even require individuals to cover their face while using common areas may be an effective way of protecting the safety of all residents and employees.

Human Rights Considerations

Despite the benefits of asking residents to wear face-coverings while using common areas, property owners must be aware of the human rights concerns that may arise from that request. In particular, certain medical conditions may be aggravated by face-coverings. Individuals with respiratory conditions may have difficulty breathing with a face-covering on, while individuals with developmental disabilities may have sensory sensitivities that make wearing a face-covering unbearable. For this reason, any face-covering policies should anticipate requests for accommodation.[3] Failure to accommodate these individuals could lead to complaints of discrimination based on disability under the Human Rights Code.[4]

Accommodating Residents and Visitors

If a resident, visitor, or staff member approaches a property owner with concerns regarding their ability to wear a face-covering, landlords should accept the individual’s concerns in good faith. At present, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has not provided a statement specifically addressing how individuals who cannot wear face-coverings are to be accommodated with respect to face-covering policies; however, the Commission has set out various actions that should be taken to ensure a rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.[5]

Policies should not disproportionately impact individuals with disabilities.[6] As such, to accommodate these individuals, landlords may consider providing an exception to the face-covering policy. Working together, landlords and residents may be able to identify strategies to ensure that individuals unable to wear a face-covering are respecting social distancing guidelines to the greatest extent possible when using common areas. This may include limiting the number of people using facilities or the number of people riding in elevators, a step many property managers have already taken. If not already in place, landlords should consider placing visible reminders of social distancing in common areas (signs, floor markers, etc.). 

Communication between property managers and residents will help ensure that public health recommendations are being followed and that the need to ensure the safety of all residents is properly balanced with the need to ensure that the rights of vulnerable residents are respected.


[1]Health Canada, “Non-medical facing covers: About” (2020-05-25), online:< https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html>.

[2]Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, c. 17, s 20.

[3]Canadian Press, “Coronavirus: Customers without masks can be refused service, experts agree” (2020-05-25), online: <  https://globalnews.ca/news/6984311/coronavirus-business-masks-experts-law/>.

[4] Human Rights Code R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s 2(1).

[5] Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Policy statement on a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic” (2020-04-02), online: <http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-statement-human-rights-based-approach-managing-covid-19-pandemic>.

[6] Ibid.

Author

Kristin's practice focuses on residential and commercial tenancies, human rights, condominium law and appellate advocacy. She works exclusively for housing providers and landlords with respect to all lease issues. Kristin regularly speaks at property management conferences and teaches human rights training courses to landlords and property managers. More →