Can a Property Owner Require Residents and Visitors to Wear Masks?
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. 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. 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. Failure to accommodate
these individuals could lead to complaints of discrimination based on disability
under the Human Rights Code.
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.
Policies should not disproportionately impact individuals with
disabilities. 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
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.
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>.
Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, c. 17, s
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/>.
 Human Rights Code R.S.O. 1990,
c. H.19, s 2(1).
 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>.