What the Gov: Should Apartment Dwellers Notify Management If They Have COVID-19?

People who live in multi-unit residential buildings share more spaces with their neighbors than those who live in single-family homes. Do they need to inform management if they test positive for the novel coronavirus?

Justin German/BGA

This article is part of a series called What the Gov?, where the BGA takes reader questions and tracks down the answers. We are devoting resources to covering how local and state governments are responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We are committed to reporting on what you want to know. Ask your questions here.

State and local health authorities continue to urge Illinoisans to minimize contact with others to limit the spread of COVID-19. But people who live in condos or apartment buildings face unique challenges when it comes to keeping distance between themselves and their neighbors.

Residents of large, multi-unit buildings press the same elevator buttons, share the same amenities and walk past one another in the same tight hallways. That got one of our readers to wonder about the precautionary measures apartment dwellers should take to help keep each other safe.

“Do residents of multi-unit residences need to notify management/owners/homeowner boards, should they be diagnosed with COVID-19?” asked Bob Norris, who lives in a large building in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.

Norris told us he read a recent article in our “What the Gov?” series about state guidance telling employers to notify fellow staff if an employee has contracted the virus and wondered if the same applied to building managers and residents.

“I’m in an old building of 138 units,” Norris said. “In a close quarter like that, I don’t think it would be any different than a business.”

But unlike employers, owners and managers of residential buildings aren’t being told by state authorities to notify other occupants, and residents who test positive for COVID-19 are not required to inform management. However, federal guidelines say building managers and owners should help local health authorities contact individuals who may have been exposed in their building if they learn a resident has the virus.

A look at the ever-evolving rules issued by the state shows no official guidance for the owners or residents of apartment and condo buildings. But a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed to the BGA that residents do not have to notify management if they contract the virus.

In Cook County, the Department of Public Health urges owners and managers of multi-unit residential buildings to follow CDC guidance for shared housing, a spokesperson told us.

Much like the state, those federal guidelines do not require residents to disclose their COVID-19 status. If administrators receive information that a resident has the virus, though, the CDC says they should work with their local health department to notify others in the building who may have had close contact with the individual while maintaining confidentiality as required by federal law.

In Chicago, the city’s public health department has laid out its own guidelines for residential buildings, which say management does not need to notify department officials or other occupants if a building resident contracts COVID-19.

“With widespread community transmission, many people will get sick and recover at home,” the city guidance states.

However, Chicago’s guidelines do recommend a number of other measures to help protect residents and staff. Those recommendations include cleaning and disinfecting common areas and frequently touched surfaces, postponing non-urgent maintenance or showings, closing or limiting access to gyms, party rooms, lounges and swimming pools, and limiting the number of people getting into elevators at the same time.

“The guidance issued by the CDPH specific to multi-family properties is pretty thorough,” said Michael Mini, executive vice president of the Chicagoland Apartment Association. “By implementing these policies and practices, they (building owners and managers) are doing their best to make sure that everybody feels safe and comfortable.”