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Can apartments and condos ban "non-essential" visitors and deliveries?

By: Richard Trapunski - Q: My apartment put up a notice in the elevator that they're restricting deliveries to our units and that we have to meet delivery people at the front door of the building. Can they do that?

That rule is probably more of a minefield than your landlord or building manager intended. 

It sounds like they're intending to act in the interest of social distancing by limiting the number of "non-essential" people moving around your building and walking through the hallways. But this request is also likely to increase non-essential trips outside, which runs counter to public health  advice to stay home as much as possible.  

Delivery services have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them are offering contactless delivery, in which the item is left in front of your door so that you don't have to interact with the person dropping it off. In many cases, having to leave your unit to meet the delivery will decrease physical distancing and put you in contact with someone who could potentially pass the virus.

Toronto Public Health actually recommends landlords allow deliveries to units, and says so in their COVID-19 fact-sheet for commercial or residential buildings

"TPH recommends that residents of residential buildings are able to receive deliveries of essential goods, like medications and groceries/meals, at their unit door so they can avoid non-essential trips outside," says Vinita Dubey, TPH's associate medical officer of health. "This is particularly important as some residents may be self-isolating, and as a result will be unable to leave their units." 

The city is working with apartment building landlords and owners to ensure deliveries continue and suggests you should call 311 if you want to complain. 

There are a number of variables to consider. If your building has a concierge, they could reasonably pick up your delivery for you. That could be considered an accommodation of deliveries assuming you're able to maintain distance from the concierge. And if you or another tenant has a disability that's protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the landlord has a legal duty to accommodate.

The situation is similar if you're under strict self-isolation, if you or someone in your household has symptoms, has returned from travelling or has the virus. You have no legal obligation to inform your building if you test positive for COVID-19 (though you should definitely inform your doctor, who will inform public health so they can start contact tracing). A landlord should be acting as if one of their tenants has COVID-19, whether they do or not, by increasing cleaning of shared surfaces, closing non-essential amenities and banning gatherings of more than five people.

So, the landlord, property manager or condo board wouldn't necessarily know you're required to stay home if you aren't volunteering that information. And they still have a legal obligation to provide access, which, if you're not allowed to leave, would reasonably include access to your deliveries.  

Karen Andrews, a staff lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says landlords generally don't like weighing a lot of variables. Andrews compares restricting "non-essential" visitors to the legalization of cannabis, when many landlords and building managers tried to ban weed in buildings altogether rather than come up with new policies. 

"It's much easier for landlords to have a blanket draconian rule beyond the ambit of legislation than it is to navigate and balance tenant interests and public health interests," she says. "They generally just want to avoid conflict." 

If a dispute ever got into legal territory, it would come down on a case-by-case basis to an interpretation of section 22 of the Residential Tenancies Act, which says "a landlord shall not... substantially interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit or the residential complex in which it is located."

At a time when we've all been ordered to stay home, being able to receive deliveries without leaving your apartment could reasonably be deemed "reasonable enjoyment."

"These are extraordinary times and everyone should be acting in the interest of community health," says Andrews. "Also, your apartment is your home, and you have a right to live in it."


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