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Ethics Concerning Privacy vs. Public Safety in Real Estate


Those who live in apartments right now have many concerns. While the ability to pay rent is a major issue since millions of people have lost their jobs, there is also the concern of what to do if a person in the building has tested positive for COVID-19.  Must tenants tell their landlords if they have it? Do landlords have the right to know?

Nearly 2.3 million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus so far. The good news is that there have been more recoveries than deaths. But still, everybody wants to stay as safe as possible during this time. Some are doing so by staying home and wearing masks when out in public.

However, there are clashes when it comes to safety and privacy that if not navigating properly, could cause landlord/tenant issues. According to HIPAA policies, the names of those who contract COVID-19 cannot be disclosed to the public. The law protects patients when it comes to disclosure of their medical history and conditions. Therefore, as a tenant, you can rest assured that if you were to test positive for the virus, your doctor would not tell your landlord. Your landlord would not be able to know unless you told them, so they couldn’t take negative action against you.

However, some landlords are requiring that tenants inform them if they test positive for COVID-19. Some landlords are emailing tenants and posting signs in frequented areas asking tenants to inform them if they test positive for the virus. This is against the law under HIPAA.

So what are tenants to do? What is the right thing? If they do catch the virus, should they keep it under wraps or should they be proactive and inform their landlord. It’s a question of ethics that’s hard to answer.

Some people would stay quiet because they would likely be discriminated against should they tell. They would likely get dirty looks from others and even be kicked out of their apartments.  Others, though, would inform their landlord because then they can hire someone to thoroughly clean the area. Plus, their neighbors can be informed and protected, since if one person gets the virus, the whole building could potentially be affected.

If a landlord is informed about a COVID-19 case, what should they do? Proceed with caution. The landlord should inform other tenants, but they should not release the infected person’s name or identifying information. They should opt for a method that doesn’t create greater panic or risk. They may also want to contact an attorney to avoid legal issues.

Seek Legal Help

In the current situation the world is facing, landlords are in a tight spot. Tenants have a right to privacy, but at what cost? Do they have responsibilities to inform others of their medical history—particularly, that they have COVID-19? What are the responsibilities of landlords in keeping other tenants safe?

Whether you are a tenant or a landlord, you need  to protect yourself and prevent eviction by understanding your legal rights and responsibilities. Fort Lauderdale real estate lawyer Edward J. Jennings, P.A. can help you prevent costly lawsuits. Schedule a consultation today. Call 954-764-4330 or fill out the online form.





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