Irby, a security guard who had lived in the Lauderhill, Fla., building for the past two years, was appalled, she told The Washington Post. Irby, 28, had planned to renew her lease by the end of August, but she did not intend to get the coronavirus vaccine.
After unsuccessful negotiations with the management company and her landlord, Santiago A. Alvarez, Irby filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services demanding that she be allowed to renew her lease “without having to disclose my personal health information.”
The letter about the vaccine requirement was posted on Irby’s door as Florida began to grapple with a surge of coronavirus infections attributable to the highly transmissible delta variant. To date, more than 65 percent of Florida residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to The Post’s vaccine tracker.
Although Gov. Ron DeSantis was vaccinated in April, the Republican has said that getting immunized is a personal choice that should be left to individuals. DeSantis has pushed against mask and vaccination mandates in businesses and schools. He has also issued executive orders banning businesses and government entities from requiring proof of vaccination.
Alvarez’s policy, which was first reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, tests the boundaries of DeSantis’s orders as some businesses in the state attempt to enact their own coronavirus policies to combat the surge in cases. The Biden administration has urged officials in states with low vaccination rates to take a stricter stand on vaccine and mask mandates.
Irby’s attorney drafted a letter that was sent to Alvarez alleging he is violating the governor’s executive order forbidding businesses from requiring “patrons or customers” to provide proof of vaccination.
Tenants wishing to renew their leases must now show proof of vaccination, Alvarez said, though he added that he is willing to allow more time for some long-term residents to meet the requirement. Employees who decline to get the vaccine will be terminated, Alvarez said.
After recovering from covid-19 earlier this year, recently losing two friends from virus complications, and learning that at least a dozen of his tenants have died of the illness, Alvarez — who owns about 1,200 units in Broward and Miami Dade counties — said he is not willing to compromise the health of his vaccinated employees and tenants for those unwilling to get immunized.
“It very much upsets me that my employees are exposed to [covid-19] all days of the week because there is someone who does not want to get vaccinated,” Alvarez, 80, told The Post. “If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I have the obligation and the duty to protect my workers and tenants.”
His attorney, Juan C. Zorrilla, told The Post his client is not violating the governor’s order because tenants are not “customers or patrons” and Alvarez is not providing a service to them. Alvarez, who is willing to make exceptions for those who choose not to get vaccinated for religious or medical reasons, is not violating any other state law or county ordinance, Zorrilla added.
A spokeswoman for the governor’s office told The Post in an email that “the law is very clear,” adding that the Department of Health will issue $5,000 fines to businesses, government entities and educational institutions that require proof of vaccination. The law goes into effect Thursday.
Alvarez “can’t require vaccine passports as a condition of entry or service,” Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, told The Post.
When vaccines were not yet widely available in the United States, Alvarez said, it was difficult to learn of a tenant dying from the virus — though in a way, it felt inevitable.
But all of that changed, Alvarez said, when vaccines were approved and people could choose to protect themselves and members of their communities.
By early August, Alvarez said he’d had enough of DeSantis’s comments and orders against vaccine and mask mandates. So he drafted the policy and issued letters to his nearly 70 employees, giving them until Aug. 15 to get the first dose of the vaccine or face termination. Two declined to get vaccinated and walked away from the job, Alvarez said.
Then, he sent tenants a letter encouraging them to get immunized as soon as possible. New tenants, the letter stated, must also show proof of vaccination as of Aug. 15. Those wishing to renew their leases were told to do the same.
“You don’t want to get vaccinated? You have to move,” Alvarez told The Post. “And if you don’t move, one must move forward with eviction.”
He added: “It’s a lack of consideration for your neighbor, it’s a lack of consideration to their own families, to their children.”
Alvarez said most of his tenants and employees have praised him for putting the policy in place.
Irby, whose lease ended on Aug. 31, vacated the premises at the end of the month and moved in with her brother.
“No one wants to live anywhere where they are not wanted … If that’s the case, then I might as well get out,” Irby told The Post. “It was just best that I walked away.”