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Landlords Face Ethics Of Public Safety Vs. Personal Privacy When Tenants Test Positive For Coronavirus

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) - Navigating tenants' rights during this CoronaVirus pandemic between the right to privacy and the need for disclosure has neighbors in uncharted waters. Do tenants have the right to know if someone in their building tested positive? Can landlords demand an infected person to tell them?

Some landlords are starting to email and post signs in the lobbies asking tenants to inform the landlords if they tested positive. Existing laws say landlords can't do that. They cannot ask tenants about their medical conditions.

Many people have a hard time deciding between individual privacy and public safety.

"I go back and forth on that, personal privacy and also just proactive measures," said Thomas Quigley, who lives in an apartment in San Francisco's Marina District.

"It should be an individual choice whether to tell the other tenants in the building," said Tom Torriglia, who owns a condo in the Marina.

"I would want a level of privacy because it's the ultimate Catch-22. You're gonna be discriminated against. You're going to catch funny looks because people are scared of what they don't know," said Oakland resident James Young. "But how far is your privacy supposed to go? And how far is the safety of others start to incorporate where your privacy runs out?"

Most people tell KPIX 5, if they tested positive they would by choice alert the landlord and neighbors in nearby units. That would at least urge the landlord to hire people to deep clean the common areas.

"If you're "it", it's not a game of tag anymore, it's a game of life. And (your neighbors) have the right to know the threat is close. I would say that," said Young.

"I have existing conditions and I have a compromised immune system. So I'm extra careful when I go out, which is not very often (these days)," said Torriglia.

Real estate attorney Daniel Bornstein represents many landlords. He said if an infected tenant volunteers that information, the landlord should inform others in the building without releasing the person's name and apartment number.

"They have to do that in a manner that doesn't cause panic and that doesn't create greater risk than is necessary. Those types of issues are very tricky and we are in uncharted territory. It's new for us," said Bornstein.

Attorneys said even if a landlord knows of an infection, the law does not require the landlord to disclose that information to tenants in the building. They said there is what's legal and what's ethical. They say the right thing to do is to inform the tenants, and at the same time, protect the infected tenant's identity.

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