Calgary-based real estate company Strategic Group will require all new residents to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to lease apartments in its Alberta buildings.
The company said anyone who wishes to tour a Strategic Group property must show proof of vaccination prior to a tour. All new residents are also required to show proof of vaccination prior to moving into their new homes.
Current residents must show proof of vaccination to access amenities such as the fitness facility or party room. Anyone who is unable to be vaccinated (i.e.: children under the age of 12) is exempt until able to receive a vaccine.
The rules apply to all of Strategic Group’s residential communities in Alberta. The firm owns and manages more than 1,500 one- and two-bedroom suites in the Edmonton and Calgary areas. Currently, the company’s occupancy rate is about 97 per cent.
“Vaccination of everyone in our community is the only way we are going to get through this pandemic and back to a sense of normalcy,” said Riaz Mamdani, CEO of Strategic Group, in a statement. “The safety of our team and our residents is a top priority, so ensuring full vaccination across the board is the least we can do.
“Our residents are telling us that they value knowing that all their neighbours are vaccinated — they feel even safer in their own homes. We have had no pushback from prospective residents when we ask for proof of vaccination prior to doing tours. Knowing they are walking into a community that cares about their health is a feature for them.”
Strategic Group received legal guidance
Tracey Steman, Strategic Group’s chief operating officer, said legal guidance the company received indicated that, as a private company, it has the right to implement and enforce the new policy.
Steman said Strategic is encouraging all of its existing residents to get vaccinated.
She said its buildings have 24/7 concierge services so its amenity rooms have to be booked through the concierge. So, for example, anyone that uses the fitness room has to have a waiver and then show proof of vaccination in order to gain access to the area.
When an existing tenant’s lease is up for renewal, the company will continue to encourage them to be vaccinated if they are not – but they will be allowed to renew their lease.
Any visitors to the apartment buildings are also greeted by the concierge desk and are required to wear a mask. Steman said if visitors are guests of a resident, they will be allowed into a building even if they are not vaccinated.
“As a company, we want to do the right thing and we want to make sure that our employees and our residents are safe. We know that the vaccination against COVID is the only way we’re going to get out of the pandemic and back to a normal life,” said Steman. “We’re hoping that this gets out and encourages other landlords to do the right thing and implement a similar program.”
The policy currently applies only to the company’s residential properties in Alberta. Strategic also has about 650 suites in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
“Definitely we are looking at it,” Steman said when asked if the company would consider a similar COVID policy in the Maritimes.
Part of the company plan, implemented in June, was to have 100 per cent of its employees fully vaccinated. Today, all of its roughly 100 employees are fully vaccinated.
The legal implications
Jennifer Koshan, law professor at the University of Calgary, said broad frameworks for considering the issue are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial human rights legislation. The former is a federal charter which applies across Canada, while the latter regulations can differ from province to province.
“The Charter does not apply to private relationships and so many of the people who have criticized vaccine mandates have done so on the basis of their Charter rights. They say ‘It’s my body, I’m free to decide what to do with my body, no one should be imposing a vaccine requirement on me.’ But those Charter freedoms do not apply to a landlord/tenant relationship,” she said.
“The Charter only applies where there’s some sort of government action and we’re not in a situation where the government has told landlords that they have to impose this requirement. So the Charter does not apply.”
Another framework that’s important to analyze in the issue is human rights legislation in Alberta, she said.
“Human rights legislation does apply to tenancy relationships. But the thing that is key to know about human rights legislation is that it doesn’t protect privacy. It doesn’t protect liberty or freedom.
“What human rights legislation does is protect against discrimination based on a certain list of grounds. Those grounds include disability and they include religion,” Koshan explained.
“So if a tenant was able to show that a vaccine mandate discriminated against them on the basis of a disability, or on the basis of their religion, they may be able to challenge the landlord vaccine mandate and then it would be up to the landlord or the association of landlords that they had met the duty to accommodate a person in those circumstances.”
The Residential Tenancies Act
A spokesman for Service Alberta said the province’s legislation – the Residential Tenancies Act – outlines rules for landlords and tenants after a rental agreement has been established. It does not speak to the type of information landlords can request or require before an agreement is entered into.
Kendall Brown, manager, rental data (Alberta/Ontario) for market research and data advisory firm Zonda Urban, said implementation of the vaccine policy in rental buildings in Calgary is unlikely to have an impact on leasing.
“We would have seen a decrease in traffic by now if the policy were going to deter renters,” she said.