COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

We’re answering our members’ frequently asked questions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. This page will continue to be updated as more information and questions come in. If you have a question not answered here, please get in touch with us at member.support@onpha.org.

Disclaimer: This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion. You should not assume the information provided herein will be suitable for the purposes you have in mind for your particular concern, problem or circumstance, and you should consult a lawyer and/or other appropriate advisor for specific advice. You should not rely on the information provided by ONPHA as an alternative to legal advice from a professional. This information provided by ONPHA is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied. ONPHA does not warrant the quality, accuracy or completeness of any information provided. ONPHA is not liable for inaccuracies in any resources provided.

Managing social distancing and self-isolation in community housing

Q - What can housing providers do to enforce self-isolation and social distancing practices among tenants? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Directives for the self-isolation of certain individuals are given by public health authorities and, in specific cases like long-term care homes, mandated by specific legislation mandating health and safety. The role of community housing providers is to provide information and encourage tenants to follow directives. Community housing providers are encouraged to put out signage in common spaces to ensure tenants have access to accurate information about preventing the spread of the virus. The following list could be shared with tenants by posting across shared space in buildings, elevators and playgrounds and/or electronically if you have an e-mail listserv or website for your building:

Providers can also encourage best practices for social distancing and self-isolation in their buildings by

  • Closing non-essential shared spaces such as recreation rooms and playgrounds and discourage use by removing any furniture
  • Encouraging tenants who are self-isolating or otherwise high-risk and not symptomatic, to receive any visitors bringing food, medications and other critical supplies at the door to the building
  • Encouraging guests to maintain safe social distancing when visiting self-isolating and/or high-risk tenants, and, if possible, to visit them in outdoor spaces
  • Creating guidelines for the use of essential common spaces (e.g. signage recommending limits on the number of users at a time in laundry room, garbage facilities or elevators, putting in place new sanitizing practices in shared spaces)
  • Sharing self-isolation and social distancing directives and resources to tenants through regular communications.

– Are superintendents required to self- isolate? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A– Superintendents are no different than anyone else, if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or are known to have it, have had close contact with a person who is ill with the virus, or have recently returned from travel outside of Canada they should self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

To prepare for this possibility you should refer to the COVID-19 web page on the ONPHA website. There you will find a link to the InfoON on Pandemic Planning which outlines how to identify the services that are critical for you to continue providing and how to develop a plan to ensure they are done in the event that one of you staff (such as your superintendent) is no longer able to perform their job. You will also find a link to Public Health Ontario’s guide to Self-Isolating.

The best course of action is to have all your staff practice social distancing to minimize the risk that they will get ill and not be able to perform their duties. For tips on practicing physical distancing see Toronto Public Health.

Q- What happens if public health advises me that my whole building needs to be quarantined? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A- As a landlord, you will need to be prepared if your public health authority gets involved and a forced isolation or quarantine order is issued for your building.

Housing providers would receive and must follow the directions provided by public health.

Helpful resources can be found here:

Managing high risk situations

Q - One of my tenants is at high risk of COVID-19, displaying symptoms, or has a diagnosis. Can I notify other tenants that they are at risk or that another tenant is self-isolating? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Providers should not be sharing tenant’s personal health information, including their health risk factors (e.g. age or underlying conditions), symptoms, or diagnosis as this would be a violation of laws protecting the tenant’s human rights and right to the privacy of their medical information. There is equally a concern around putting a notice up that there is a tenant self-isolating as it may violate the tenant’s rights to the protection of privacy of personal health information. As this is an evolving issue, ONPHA recommends you retain legal counsel on this matter.
Q - Do providers have the right to ask questions about tenant or visitors’ health, recent travel history or contact with other people who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

 A - Providers may implement screening questions asking about risk factors including symptoms, exposure risks and travel history for the purposes of providing services, such as processing rent payments or addressing critical maintenance issues. This information should be used for the purpose of assessing the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) and any special protocols (e.g. deferring non-critical maintenance requests) in place.

Using a tenant or visitor information to limit tenancy rights runs a potential risk of violating the tenants’ human rights. Providers should consult with their own legal counsel in assessing the legality and risks of any measure they are looking to take that comes out of a disclosure of health information.

Providers should be highly sensitive to the privacy of any information disclosed by the tenant (for more detail on privacy, refer to our previous question: One of my tenants is at high risk of COVID-19, displaying symptoms, or has a diagnosis. Can I notify other tenants that they are at risk or that another tenant is self-isolating?)

Providers should equally be mindful that tenants or individuals do not disclose information to the providers that should be reported to public health, and should train staff to provide the necessary contact information for your local public health authority.

Q - How should providers handle the garbage of a tenant who has the virus or is concerned that they might have been in contact with someone else who does? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - You should check with your local health authority on specific instructions based on the situation in your building, as they will have up-to-date information on the transmission of the virus and should be able to share protocols on safe disposal. As an employer, you must assess the risk of being infected while working and job tasks that may lead to exposure. This will determine the types of personal protection equipment (PPE) staff may be required to use during the COVID-19 outbreak, such as gloves and masks. At minimum, staff and any third party providers involved in the disposal of trash should be practicing safe social distancing from tenants, one another and hand hygiene protocols.

Business continuity and operations during COVID-19

Q - Should we be postponing regularly scheduled fire inspections? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A – Housing providers must continue to fulfill their obligations under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act and proceed with any scheduled inspections of fire life safety equipment.

During this period of self-isolation it is important to remind tenants about fire safety.

Here are some helpful reminders you can share:

  • Do not put burning material such as cigarettes and ashes into the garbage or garbage chutes.
  • Avoid unsafe cooking practices (deep fat frying, too much heat, unattended stove, wearing loose fitting clothing, etc.).
  • Do not use unsafe electrical appliances, frayed extension cords, over-loaded outlets and improper use of power bars, or extension cords for permanent wiring.
    • Avoid careless smoking:
    • Use deep ashtrays.
    • Never smoke in bed.
    • Ensure cigarette butts are out.
    • Do not discard smoker’s materials from decks/balconies or windows.
    • Thoroughly wet prior to disposing of smoker’s materials in garbage cans.

  • Never leave candles unattended; use candle holders that have a glass cylinder which covers the flame.
  • Keep hallways, stairwells, passageways and exits clear of obstructions, (i.e. wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, and bicycles) combustible refuse, and other items at all times.
  • Always keep laundry, furnace and electrical rooms/panels clear of combustible materials.
  • Always clean out clothes dryer lint collector before and after each use.
  • Test your carbon monoxide alarm(s) monthly (where installed). If the carbon monoxide alarm(s) does not operate, or is not mounted as intended, report it to the property management immediately for repair.
  • Practice a fire escape plan, if you don’t have one – develop one!

ONPHA continues to monitor COVID-19 developments and their potential impact on the operations of our members. Please check the ONPHA COVID-19 webpage regularly for updates.

Q - How should providers handle unit turnover, including upcoming move-in or move-out dates? [Updated 4/17/20]

A - While providers have some discretion around their procedures for unit turnovers, you should consult with you Service Manager to ensure any new procedures are compliant with the Service Manager’s funding requirements. Ensure your business continuity plan is updated with your procedures to manage new occupancies of empty units, move-outs, and the signature of new leases in occupied units.

Some options available to providers in revising their unit turnover procedures:

  • Limit lease viewings to empty units only, with new protocols in place to maximize health and safety including sanitation and social distancing;
  • Prepare vacant units for rental in the future but halt new move-ins entirely;
  • Allow tenants to select an occupied unit sight unseen to support social distancing through online rental listing tools. Check with your Service Manager to confirm if you can exempt these selections from tenants’ first refusal of offer permitted by the new RGI regulations;
  • Implement electronic protocols and/or tools to allow new tenants to sign leases and pay rent remotely;
  • Implement move-in/move-out protocols that ensure the unit can be thoroughly cleaned between tenants and that appropriate social distancing measures are followed during the move;
  • Limit any maintenance and repairs to the unit between tenants to critical issues only in order to comply with the new Provincial restrictions on non-essential services. ONPHA strongly encourages organizations to review the new list of essential services in its entirety to see how these changes apply to them specifically and/or to call the Stop the Spread hotline at 1-888-444- 3659, open 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:30 a.m.— 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. We also encourage organizations to seek their own legal opinion on the interpretation of essential services.

Prior to moving day, you should:

  • Ensure any scheduled movers or third party vendors are still operating on the planned move day. While moving services are included in Ontario’s list of essential services, many companies have modified or ceased operations temporarily due to the pandemic.
  • Ensure that the movers and any other third parties who enter the unit are following health and safety protocol recommended by local public health with regard to the use of diligent hand hygiene and social distancing. You may also wish to implement a screening checklist for any vendors entering the building.
Q - Can providers ask tenants to help with cleaning in common areas of the building? [POSTED: 4/1/20]

A - Generally, it is not advisable to delegate tasks to tenants that should be staff responsibilities, as providers do not have the oversight, accountabilities and protections under the Employment Standards Act to ensure protocols are being followed.

However, in some cases providers may wish to provide cleaning supplies and instructions for tenants to use in support of the building’s cleaning protocols (e.g. wiping down a laundry machine after use.)

Providers should consult with their local public health authority in making a determination about what minimum cleaning protocols need to be maintained by staff. In cases where staff are unable to perform duties due to illness, self-isolation measures or other issues, providers should identify third party providers (i.e. cleaning services) who can support the building in meeting minimum standards. If a provider does bring in third party services, it is critical to train vendors on your building’s cleaning standards as well as protocols for social distancing and hand hygiene.

Rent Payments and Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI)

Q - Does the new rent freeze legislation for 2021 apply to rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units? [Posted 10/14/2020]

A - Yes. On October 1, Bill 204 received Royal Assent, freezing residential rent increases for 2021. For greater clarity, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing recently shared a Q&A guidance document on the 2021 rent freeze, including specific guidance for the community housing sector (beginning on page 7). The document clarifies that the rent freeze applies to both market and RGI households living in community housing.

While providers are required to continue decreasing RGI rents for households that experience a decrease in income, no increases can come into effect for 2021, even if a household’s income increases or if a household becomes ineligible for RGI assistance.

Service Managers and housing providers will still be required to conduct annual reviews and in-year rent recalculations in 2021. However, any calculated rent increase resulting from an annual or in-year review would not take effect in 2021.

You can find more information on how the rent freeze applies to RGI units in the Q&A document, plus background information on the rent freeze in our blogpost.

Q - How should staff be handling rent processing, especially for tenants who pay by cash or cheque, while under this mandate of social distancing? [POSTED: 3/26/20]

A – For the safety for all and according to the guidelines issued by public health, here are some suggestions:

  • Ask tenants to limit visits to the office and communicate by phone or email, whenever possible.
  • Consider reducing open office hours.
  • Consider limiting visitors to the office and ask them to maintain a minimum distance of 2 meters.
  • Encourage tenants to provide post-dated cheques or sign up for alternative online payment methods if their current method of rent payment is cash or debit.
  • Set up a locked drop box and encourage tenants to submit documents and payments there.
  • Ensure that staff who handle documents, cash and cheques are following health and safety protocol recommended by local public health with regard to the use of diligent hand hygiene.

Landlord and tenancy matters

Government subsidy and relief programs

Q- Are funds received through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program taxable for tax-exempt non-profit housing providers? [Updated 7/6/2020]

A- Likely no.

As long as the housing provider is using the wage subsidy for employee salaries related to the organization’s not-for-profit activities, it is unlikely CEWS payments would be taxable.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has indicated that emergency wage subsidies, including CEWS, are considered government assistance and accordingly, would be considered taxable income for an employer’s income calculation. However, tax-exempt organizations in the Income Tax Act (including non-profit organizations) would likely not need to pay tax on the subsidies, considering they do not pay taxes on taxable income.

To confirm your organization is eligible for CEWS and for any other related questions, see the CEWS contact webpage.

Q- Are non-profit housing providers eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program? [Updated 7/6/2020]

A- Likely yes, with some exceptions.

Most non-profit housing providers should be eligible for CEWS.

In order to be eligible for CEWS, an organization must be considered an “eligible entity.” Included among the eligible entities are tax-exempt organizations in the Income Tax Act, including non-profit organizations. Most non-profit housing providers should be considered eligible entities as tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

However, some tax-exempt non-profit housing providers may also fall under provisions in the Income Tax Act that are not considered eligible for CEWS. Ineligible housing providers would likely include:

  • Limited-dividend housing companies incorporated to construct, hold and manage a low-rental housing project, with payable dividends of 5% or less per year (this exclusion would not apply to most non-profit housing providers.)
  • Organizations that exclusively provide low-cost housing for seniors. Organizations providing other types of housing in addition to low-cost housing for seniors would likely still be considered eligible.

For more information on CEWS, including eligibility information for employers and employees, a subsidy calculator and application guide, see the CEWS webpage.



Human Resources 

Please note that this Q&A does not constitute legal advice and your organization’s own individual circumstances must be taken into account before acting. Please connect with your Human Resources provider or legal counsel to discuss your organization’s individual circumstances.

Regarding the Employment Standards Act (ESA), which was recently amended to include unpaid, job protected infectious disease emergency leave and waives the need for medical documentation, Enliven HR recommends waiving requirement for medical notes for other illnesses too (not COVID-19 related) so as to not tax the medical system. 

Regarding an employee being away due to COVID-19, quarantine, self-isolation or are at home because of school closure or day care closure, it is important to issue Record of Employment (ROE) immediately so Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits can kick in as soon as possible. Categorize the ROE code as “Sickness” for the above reasons.

  • Current employee handbooks may have specific details of each leave – if not, look at ESA website for details and how to navigate different types of leave – because leaves are changing frequently now to take into account COVID-19, it is helpful to look at the ESA website to navigate any changes.
Q - Who may deem a person(s) ill under extended ESA leaves?
A - A certified health care professional
Q - If someone gets COVID-19 and is off work for extended time, how do we handle this?
A -
  • Issue an ROE for sickness benefits (see above)
  • Look at short-term disability plans, which would be the first program to be utilized
  • Call your insurance company to make sure COVID-19 will be covered
Q - We may need to conduct a termination meeting via teleconference as the employee is working from home. Is this a practice that can be done?
A -
  • Yes, however, it is not a practice we would strongly recommend. If you can wait until the situation has subsided, that is recommended.
  • There are some considerations before terminating someone using this method that you will likely want to consider. Assess if the individual has a preexisting condition that you are aware of that would affect them adversely if you conducted the termination via videoconference. This would include things like mental health conditions and any medical conditions that may be exacerbated.
  • In addition, you should consider reviewing your policies on terminations, returning company property upon termination, technology and social media policies, confidentiality agreements and other types of policies that ensure you have the protections in place to protect reduce any potential liability.
  • As part of your off-boarding program, consider modifying your termination checklist to ensure you have the right protocols and processes in place when terminating individuals; regardless of whether it is via videoconferencing or in person. Checklists should be robust enough to be able to account for potential termination issues you may encounter; including removal of systems and technology, fiduciary responsibilities and other considerations.
Q - If this situation extends for months and someone is unable to work for an extended period of time due to schools closing, how do we handle this?
A -
  • Refer to ESA leaves above
  • Analyze the impact of layoffs on families when looking at employee list
Q - If a family member is sick and the employee needs to be off for an extended period of time, how do we handle this?
A -
Q - Do we have the right to lay off employees?
A -
  • If drafting layoff notice, ensure that you involve HR and/or legal counsel to limit potential risk and liability and ensure proper language in letters
  • Check existing offers of employment to determine if there are layoff provisions in the agreements
  • In addition, check the employee handbook and any policies that employees have signed to determine if there are layoff provisions detailed in your policies
  • If you have hourly paid employees or are unionized, layoffs are easier
  • It is more complicated to layoff salaried employees, as it will more deeply impact their salary and they will likely be above the threshold for the maximum allowable through EI
  • May open you up to constructive dismissal claims – getting advice before laying off employees is absolutely critical
  • Recommend including a clause in layoff letters that offer consideration including payment for employees with layoff notification in event that someone wants to claim constructive dismissal against employer
  • Recommend adjusting language in layoff notice including consideration and that it is not deemed termination of employment
Q - What if I want to reduce employee’s hours from FT to PT? What are our rights and obligations?
A -
  • If impacting more than 10% of pay, employee could claim potential constructive dismissal, as you are then essentially laying them off
  • Recommend speaking with employee to ask them how they want to proceed and explore available options, including using sick leave and/or vacation benefits
  • When laying off, you can ask employees if they want to use their vacation time first
  • See question above for same principles regarding layoff
Q - What happens if an employee in an essential service is coming to work and their spouse or family member is in quarantine?
A -
  • Send out communications to all employees with all potential circumstances of when they should stay home, including if they have a family member in quarantine/self-isolation, if they’ve been travelling in the past 14 days (i.e. for Manitoba this now includes travel outside of the Province)
  • Regarding the right to refuse unsafe work, ONPHA has posted workflow examples from Enliven HR for employees who refuse unsafe work that will help to avoid employees not following appropriate protocol to refuse unsafe work
Q - Can we ask employees to use vacation days while they are at home caring for their children during school closures?
A
  • You can talk to employees about this, but it is ultimately up to the employee to decide if they want to use those days
  • Depending on your policies, you may have the right to schedule vacation days for employees, however, consult with your human resources or legal counsel
  • You may not be able to force employees to use their vacation days depending on your policies
Q - If an employee voluntarily offers to modify and/or reduce their hours, do they qualify for EI or sick leave to top up their pay?
A -
  • EI only applies in a layoff position where the employee still works some hours for the employer, not if an employee voluntarily reduces their hours
  • In the former case, any hours the employee earns from the employer, the employee can keep 50% up to eligible amount, then $ for $ (up to $573/week gross)
  • Calculation can be tricky – connect in with Jodi for assistance: jzigelsteinyip@enlivenhr.ca
  •  Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) Programs can be used to supplement employees’ pay, but employers need to register (excluding for pregnancy and parental leaves already in place).