After mounting pressure from doctors, infectious disease specialists and several business groups — Ontarians will now have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter a number of indoor settings, including restaurants, gyms, theatres and sporting events. As part of a two-stage rollout, the provincial policy goes into effect on September 22 with a digital ‘verification app’ to follow a month later.
Although Ontario premier Doug Ford has insisted the measure is meant to be temporary, some experts believe many sectors could find the courage to implement vaccine mandates of their own. One such area is the real estate industry, especially for condominiums and the use of shared amenities.
In light of Ontario’s announcement, Strata.ca realtors share their insights following months of interaction with condo owners during the global pandemic. It appears many residents are unaware that condominium boards may be able to enforce such requirements. But a prominent condo litigation lawyer says this new province-wide system could encourage them to follow suit.
Whether it’s due to “personal human rights or medical secrecy laws”, Strata.ca agent Nathaniel Hartree-Hallifax says he hasn’t come across any condo residents who are worried about immunization requirements potentially coming to their building.
Larry Medina is another realtor at Strata.ca. No one has ever talked to him about this, either.
“However, clients do ask if I know what percentage of residents are fully vaccinated in a building we’re viewing,” he says. “Obviously, I don’t have the answer to this.”
Although broker Cliff Liu admits none of his clients have ever expressed concern about vaccine mandates, he has noticed that condo residents are still very cautious about getting too close to others.
“I’m in and out of buildings all the time, and I see that the stairwells get a lot more traffic than the elevators,” says Liu. “Residents seem respectful of each other’s space, even without a vaccine policy in place.”
The lack of a provincial passport system has kept strata boards from enforcing vaccination mandates of their own, according to condo litigation lawyer Bradley Chaplick. Authorities had been struggling with the issue of how to easily confirm someone’s immunization status while limiting incursions on privacy.
“A vaccine passport now solves that problem, making the rules easier to implement,” Chaplick says. “This could also open the door for local municipalities to enforce their own policies requiring condos to limit amenities to vaccinated people only.”
Chaplick points out that Ontario saw this kind of scenario play out last year with masking mandates, which began at the local level before they were eventually adopted province-wide.
As condo boards continue to scrutinize resident safety in an ongoing pandemic, some homeowners may question which common areas would be off limits to the unvaccinated.
“We’re talking about access to ‘non-essential’ common areas only, primarily the amenities,” explains Chaplick, “such as a swimming pool or gym. We’re not talking about common areas necessary to access individual suites, like lobbies and elevators.”
A vaccine policy, he says, could apply to any area that is used by more than one household simultaneously. But guest suites, used by one party at a time, probably wouldn’t need restrictions because the “potential danger to other people is not the same.”
Requiring proof of immunization to access amenities will certainly elicit some “unhappy campers”, says Liu. “But this type of rule could improve the perception of a building that’s trying to show it really cares about resident safety.”
According to a recent Ipsos poll, 72% of Canadians agree with mandatory vaccinations to curb the spread of variants. Chaplick believes this seemingly broad societal acceptance will hold weight in a court of law.
“Changing societal norms make a difference in what a court will accept as ‘reasonable’”, he says.
When it comes to restricting what residents and visitors can do in a condominium, law states that the rules must be ‘reasonable’ and must be for a proper purpose, such as promoting safety or preventing interference with others.
“In the absence of a proper rule, the residents have a presumptive right to use these amenities,” says Chaplick.
Whether or not condo boards follow suit with vaccine requirements, Hartree-Hallifax believes it would have little impact on a building’s overall resale value.
“In my experience, those who are not vaccinated want their private space in a very literal sense,” he says. “So for those who can afford it, this compact condominium lifestyle and sharing of amenities is not their ideal situation anyways.”
Strata.ca realtor Francisco Hiebert agrees, based on immunization data that shows 67% of eligible Ontarians have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“All these people likely wouldn’t have an issue buying into a condo with vaccine mandates, so resale value won’t be impacted,” he says. “Prices are typically set by recent comparable units sold...not on whether people can use certain amenities.”
But some agents argue it’s those exact amenities that residents are banking on when buying into a property.
“Whenever a building has rules on anything people want or use, the resale value is always affected,” says Medina, who points out what happens when a condo board restricts pets. The rule ends up creating a smaller buyer pool, and he believes the same principle would apply when making vaccines mandatory for the pool or gym.
“But should enough buildings adopt this policy”, Medina adds, “it would ultimately become a moot point.”
For Strata.ca agent Osman Omaid, realtors must remain sensitive to everyone’s personal choices, no matter how vaccine policies end up playing out.
“Some may only look for condos with this mandate, and some may turn away from a building only because of it,” he says. “It'll just be another point to go over when talking about a property...sort of like walk scores or nearest transit.”
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