There’s no disputing that COVID-19 has created additional stress for everyone, and the tension seems to be especially acute in multi-unit housing. Density, shared walls, stay-at-home orders, and misinformation about the pandemic have all created increased conflict among apartment residents and between residents and their landlords.

Many apartment residents expect building management to notify them if another resident tests positive for COVID-19. Individuals who are infected with COVID-19 or suspect they are must notify their close contacts of the exposure. But landlords have no duty to notify residents if another resident tests positive for COVID-19, and in fact doing so may violate the privacy of the COVID-19 positive resident.

However, landlords who are aware that residents are infected or exposed can take steps to protect the health of residents. These steps may include dropping off mail, packages, and deliveries to affected residents’ doors, and picking up bagged trash from outside their doors. Landlords can also direct staff and vendors to avoid the units of residents they know to be infected or exposed, without disclosing a reason.

The Los Angeles County Health Department encourages everyone to do their part in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. For landlords, these steps include:

• Post information in common areas about preventing the spread of disease. Resources are available here.

• Ensure that employees, vendors, residents, and visitors wear face covers and practice physical distancing. The City requires individuals to use face covering any time they will be in contact with other people who are not household members in public or private places, where six feet physical distancing cannot be maintained. This applies to common areas of an apartment building.

• Regularly clean high-touch areas such as door handles, elevator buttons, mailboxes, and intercoms.

• Postpone non-emergency repairs and maintenance. If repairs can’t be postponed, ensure that workers wear face coverings, and encourage residents and workers to practice physical distancing and open windows if possible. Keep in mind that Santa Monica’s eviction moratorium protects tenants from eviction for refusing non-emergency entries, regardless of whether the tenants are infected or exposed to COVID-19.

Limit occupancy of common areas such as elevators, laundry rooms, leasing offices, and lobbies. If possible, landlords can implement an online sign-up system for laundry rooms and rearrange the rooms to allow for low occupancy and physical distancing.

• Post and adhere to public health protocols for gyms and fitness establishments, tennis and pickleball courts, and residential swimming pools. Community and recreational rooms should remain closed, and basketball courts can only be used by individuals practicing physical distancing.

• Allow residents and prospective residents virtual options to pay rent, communicate with management, view available apartments, and execute rental agreements.

• Leave common-area doors open if allowed by fire codes to increase air circulation and reduce touching.

Sometimes landlords can help resolve disputes between residents by facilitating communication between quarreling neighbors. Some disputes can be resolved when residents agree to something as simple as a schedule change that allows both households to use a common area separately and safely. Landlords and tenants can request free mediation services here from the Straus Institute at Pepperdine University.

For more information about COVID-19 prevention and protocols for residential landlords and tenants, see the Los Angeles County Health Department’s Guidance for Multi-Family Residences.

Andrea Cavanaugh – Consumer Affairs Specialist for CAO/PRD