Is a Landlord Responsible For Sterilizing to Protect Against Coronavirus Contamination?

A Landlord, Generally, Is Responsible For Maintaining Shared Spaces Such as a Lobby, Hallways, Elevators, Among Other Places; However, In Some Circumstances, a Landlord May Also Be Responsible to Sterilize a Rental Unit Contaminated By a Coronavirus Infected Tenant.

Other Questions About Contamination Issues Include:

  • Who Is Responsible For Sterilizing to Protect Against Coronavirus Contamination?
  • Is the Landlord or Tenant Responsible For Sterilizing to Protect Against Coronavirus?
  • If a Tenant Gets Coronavirus Does the Landlord Need to Sterilize the Rental Unit?
  • Who Sterilizes a Rental Unit If a Tenant Gets Coronavirus?
  • Does a Landlord or Tenant Sterilize a Rental Unit If a Tenant Gets Coronavirus?

Understanding Responsibility for Covid19 Contamination Within Shared Spaces or Rental Units

Residential Tenancy Lease Document A landlord is statutorily required to maintain common spaces within a residential building such as a lobby, elevator, halls, shared laundry rooms, among other areas.  This mandate is specified within section 20 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, Chapter 17.  Interestingly, the Act describes the maintenance mandate in vague terms that may be somewhat subjective and for which the interpretation is perhaps left fully open and arbitrary.  Specifically, the Act states:

20 (1) A landlord is responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards.

Special Maintenance Duties
Potential for Contamination and Sterilizing

As per the wording of the Act, whether the mandate to maintain the complex includes maintenance rising to a 'white glove' level of sanitization and sterilization during a pandemic is undefined and, whereas the law is without precedent cases, currently unknown.  Furthermore, whereas the Act does clearly state that the landlord is responsible for maintaining the rental units in a state that is, "fit for habitation" and that complies with "health" standards, for which health standards is undefined, the section 20 mandate appears to show that a landlord may have the responsibility for sterilizing a rental unit contaminated by a tenant, or a guest of the tenant, carrying the coronavirus.  For many small pocket landlords, the costs of such extreme efforts may be a very significant expense if such a circumstance actually arises.

Of course, where the above suggests that a landlord may be responsible for sterilizing a rental unit exposed to coronavirus is purely speculative, it is fully unknown whether the Landlord Tenant Board would actually declare so.  However, and regardless, there are concerns that go beyond the potential for an interpretation of section 20 of the Act to impose the duty upon the landlord.  These additional concerns include the potential for liability to others, such as other tenants within the building, or guests of such other tenants, as well as other persons who may enter upon the premises.  For example, if a tenant in a multi-tenanted unit comes down with Covid19, it is a genuine legal concern to consider that the landlord would be unable to say, "Well, cleaning the unit is the responsibility of the tenant and should be done by the tenant if and when the tenant recovers", and then simply leaving the unit to remain contaminated.  The tenants in other units may, and perhaps most likely, be extremely concerned about residing within a building where a contaminated unit is left unaddressed by the landlord.  Furthermore, if any of those other tenants become, somehow provably, infected via air circulated from the contaminated unit through the HVAC system, or other means, the landlord could become subject to very serious liabilities.  Accordingly, even if a landlord perceives that section 20 of the Act fails to impose a duty upon the landlord to clean up a contaminated unit, the risk of other legal issues may arise. 

Summary Comment

The world is experiencing unprecedented times.  Unprecedented legal issues are surely to occur.  Just how the law will address these legal issues remains unclear.  By being proactive, communicating respectfully, and extending courteous accommodations, landlords and tenants will best ensure that legal issues are avoided or minimized and that quality relationships are maintained.

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