Tyler Robinson felt powerless to protect his family when his landlord listed the house and he was required to allow strangers to walk through

Having multiple strangers constantly coming into your home can be stressful and frustrating for families trying to be safe during a COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, but it’s a situation tenants are powerless to prevent. 

“I can’t even visit my kids’ grandma, but 18 to 24 people can come through my home,” said Tyler Robinson, whose landlord put up for sale the house in which he, his wife and daughter are living. 

Despite the province’s stay-at-home and emergency order restrictions, real estate sales are allowed to continue.

Robinson, a Barrie resident, reached out to NewmarketToday (BarrieToday’s sister site) regarding his concerns because the listing agent is Grace Simon, who is also a Newmarket councillor. 

Well aware that he couldn’t deny entry to his landlord or his agents, Robinson expressed his concern and frustration about the high volume of realtors and potential buyers — up to eight a day — trekking through his home throughout the selling process.

Robinson says public health guidelines were not always being followed by the people he was obliged to allow into his home.

“We have had to sit there and get our three-year-old daughter and my wife in a mask and wait for these people to leave so I can disinfect things. People don’t even follow the rules — one woman pulled her mask down to ask my wife if the appliances were working,” he said.

Even when the showings were scheduled when the family was away from home, Robinson said his security system cameras caught the realtors taking things like business cards out of their pockets and putting them on his table.

“Did you disinfect those cards before you put them in your pocket, or are they in a plastic bag? It’s getting a little ridiculous,” he said.

The purchase is now complete, but Robinson says he doesn’t think his family should have been put in such a stressful situation when they are trying to stay safe. 

Simon, who is a sales representative with exp realty brokerage, said she and other realtors have found themselves at a nexus of competing pressures — the need to keep tenants safe, the need for people to continue to sell and buy properties, and the need for real estate agents to continue to make a living.

“It’s frustrating when tenants are upset, because I have been trying my best to keep them safe. But there are just circumstances when people must sell,” she said. 

The province maintains real estate is an essential service, however open houses are banned and showings, if necessary, must be made by appointment.

Simon says she has been following current guidelines issued by the Real Estate Council of Ontario and had requested other realtors viewing the property to do the same.

The family who owns the house in which Robinson’s apartment is located needed to sell the home following the death of a family member, Simon said. She priced the home aggressively — it has since been purchased — and allowed other realtors to bring their clients for showings, she added. 

“I wanted to get a lot of showings in a few days so it would be over quickly. But in the meantime, everyone needs to follow strict guidelines. … Had it not been for the landlord’s situation, I would not have listed this property because of the tenants.”   

Simon said she instructed the realtors bringing clients to the home to limit the size of groups to two people, sanitize surfaces, and follow all public health guidelines and precautions. But she wasn’t present at the showings and can’t say for certain that they all followed those instructions.

Just like in the rest of society, there are too many people in the real estate industry who are not taking precautions as seriously as they should, and realtors need to be extra vigilant, especially when they are putting tenants in an awkward situation, Simon said.

“This is an issue, and people are not following the rules. If we are going to keep being designated an essential service, we need to make sure we are sticking with all the guidelines. But I did everything I could to make sure they had those guidelines.”

The real estate council is calling for realtors to ideally get the consent of the tenants for showings and “strongly recommends” such showings be kept to a minimum. But they can still go ahead with 24 hours of notice allowed under the Residential Tenancies Act. 

“We encourage all parties to approach such situations with a desire to be flexible and understanding, with full consideration of the risk of transmission associated with in-person showings,’ the guidelines state.

Other guidelines from the council include:

Ask buyers or their representatives to screen for COVID-19; 
Record the name and contact information of each person;
Consider requiring all clients to book an appointment in advance;
Abide by a schedule to encourage consumers to wait for their turn;
Limit the number of individuals allowed into a home at one time based on the size of the property;
Maintain physical distancing of at least two meters metres from people outside of your household or social circle;
Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces as frequently as is necessary to maintain a sanitary environment;
Ensure all lights are on and all doors (including closets) are open in areas consumers may want to see;
Recommend to client that they disinfect their home after open houses;
Disinfect lockboxes and keys on exiting the home.
The Ontario Real Estate Association published its own guidelines that also call on realtors to do their best to accommodate tenants’ concerns, to limit the people going through a property, and to rely on virtual tours as much as possible. It also recommends that no more than two visitors be allowed at a time, something that Robinson said did not happen with all visits at his home.

According to the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, the fact that there is a lockdown or a state of emergency does not give tenants the right to refuse the landlord or their agent reentry into their unit. 

“However, the (board) is mindful of the government’s advice for Ontarians to practise self-isolation and physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenants should discuss the issue with their landlord and explain concerns they may have regarding the situation, and try to work it out in a cooperative way,” said the board in a statement to NewmarketToday.

“If a landlord and tenant are unable to reach an acceptable resolution, we recommend that parties seek legal advice on their options.”