Asking this for my sibling:

"I am currently living in Oakland and am living with a chronic health conditions that puts me at greater risk of complications from COVID. My property manager doesn’t wear a mask around myself and other residents and does not take any COVID precautions. I have said that I want him to wear a mask, but he has ignored that. I'm hesitant to say anything to the management company or the landlord because I am not sure if he is the landlord. I’m worried that if I say anything, nothing will change and he will be less responsive to maintenance needs (the apartment has shoddy electrical wiring and heating and I depend on him being responsive when things go wrong). What are my rights as a tenant when it comes to COVID and how do I get him to wear a mask around me?"


2 Answers 2


One path would be to get compliance, by demonstrating that it is legally required. The best evidence that he is legally required to wear a mask is this recent mandate from the Department of Public Health. However, I cannot find a corresponding executive order, which may be in a generic form empowering CDPH to issue orders. Any imposition of penalties for violation must be publicly announced and rest on legislative authority. The mandate is not generally enforced, except in a few cases regarding bars and restaurants. There are various persuasive avenues that you could pursue, such as asking CDPH to come talk to him (unlikely, but you could try), complaining to the property owner, appealing to local social media to apply pressure (possibly putting yourself at legal risk for defamation, if you make a false statement).

There are two more involved legal actions to contemplate. One is to terminate the lease and move elsewhere. This would likely result in an action to collect the remainder of the rent, but the strategy would be to argue that the manager has interfered with your private enjoyment of the premise. A second, highly improbable, is to sue the manager and get an enforceable court order requiring him to wear a mask. Courts have a prejudice against ordering people to take actions when other options exist (terminating the lease, monetary compensation). It could be an interesting but expensive test case to see if you could get a judge to order the manager to wear a mask.

So yes they are obligated to wear masks, but legal enforcement is going to be difficult at best.


County health departments matter

While governors get all the national press, counties do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to orders.

Alameda County Health Officer order 20-13 and 20-14 require face coverings (masks) when outside the home. In particular, that means people "outside their home and within 30 feet of anyone else other than members of their Social Bubble".* In particular, this rule applies to employees, with culpability to employers. So the landlord has something to lose if the superintendent affects you.

Stand your ground, but do not overreach! Do not attack!

It is very, very tempting to go beyond protecting your own self, and use the situation as a method to use force on other people to make them comply with your sense of how things ought to be. Be mindful of that urge; it is very much in vogue in the current US political situation, with everything from "cancel culture" to "voter disenfranchisement". However it is the road to nowhere.

So do not waste your limited influence by trying to force the person to wear a mask while in public spaces. Don't tie yourself up by being offended by that. For one thing, that's not even required unless others are near.

You can and should, however, require it for entry into your home. No mask no entry - you have every legal right to stand on that requirement, and arguably, a legal obligation.

What does that mean for repairs, if your landlord sends someone to do a repair, who you turn away due to their refusal to wear a mask? That employee has no leg to stand on because the law requires that! And thus, neither does the landlord. So you can treat that same as the landlord's refusal to fix the problem, and pursue ordinary tenant remedies there.

Electrical repairs need a licensed electrician anyway

As do certain other craft repairs; your local Tenant's Union or city inspector can get you up to speed.

Random handymen are not allowed to do electrical work in rental units in Oakland, CA. They must be done by licensed electricians. This is precisely to avoid "shoddy electrical wiring and heating", which is the inevitable result of allowing general handymen do electrical work.

There is an exception allowing landlord/handyman/tenant (with landlord permission) to do "trivial"** cosmetic swaps such as replacing a lamp, switch or socket (say, brown to white). But that isn't a repair unless the lamp, switch or socket itself is broken. Usually older-building wiring problems are complex and require a real electrician.

* A "Social Bubble" is defined as a single household, or a few households who agree to disregard safety protocols only amongst each other. Or housemate shares, common in parts of California.

** Often not so trivial. Many "simple" swaps, sockets in particular, have complications. On the DIY stack we have frequent Q&As about novices who suddenly were "in over their head".

  • Similar to the DIY SE: other electric appliances stacks (Electronics & 3D Printing) stress repeatedly that electricity is inherently dangerous
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 1:59

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