Landlords beware: crackdown on discrimination in rental ads

Here are some general guidelines for landlords across Canada on how to stay on the right side of the human rights code.

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Online only.

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In mid-June, the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a warning that it will be cracking down on discriminatory housing advertisements. Rather than just focus on blatant discrimination, the Commission will actively investigate websites or ads that contain statements that are either directly or indirectly discriminatory.

Accidental discrimination occurs when phrases are used that describe the ideal tenant rather than a particular selling point regarding the unit for rent. These phrases inadvertently suggest that the landlord prefers certain types of people — an act of discrimination. Examples include:

  • Ideal for quite couple
  • Suitable for single professional
  • Perfect for female student
  • Suits mature individual or couple
  • Great for working folks or students
  • Not soundproof (may indicate a bias against families or children)
  • No pets (exceptions apply, but you need to know when and where)

Overt discrimination is still prohibited and includes a rejection of a potential tenant based upon:

  • receipt of public assistance, like welfare or employment insurance
  • race, colour or ethnic origin
  • age, including 16- or 17-year-olds who are independent of their parents
  • family status
  • marital status, including people with common-law or same-sex partners
  • ancestry, including people of Aboriginal descent
  • sex, including pregnancy and gender identity
  • religious beliefs or practices
  • place of origin
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • citizenship, including refugee status.

(However, these rules do not apply if a tenant shares a bathroom or kitchen with the landlord or the landlord’s family.)

Examples of phrases that are discriminatory include:

  • Adult building or Not suitable for children
  • Phrases, such as: “Must have working income” or “Must provide proof of employment”
  • No ODSP, or
  • Seeking mature couple.

While Ontario landlords will need to pay particular attention to their rental ads, landlords in the rest of the country are not off the hook.

British Columbia

In B.C. landlords are able to restrict pets on the premises, but all other forms of discrimination are not permitted.

Alberta & Manitoba

In Alberta age is not a protected ground and can be used to identify ideal tenants. However, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against tenants based on: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender (including pregnancy, sexual harassment, and gender identity), physical disability, mental disability, marital status, family status, source of income, sexual orientation.

In Manitoba characteristics are protected, and include: ancestry, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, gender-determined characteristics, sexual orientation, marital or family status, source of income, political beliefs, and physical or mental disability.

Quebec

The Quebec HR Commission provides a step-by-step guide for would-be renters to determine if they are being discriminated against and what steps to take in the event of discrimination. Tenants from discrimination based on: ethnicity, ancestory, marital or family status, income source, sex, sexual orientation, disability or handicap, religion, age or language.

PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador

In PEI and Newfoundland & Labrador all persons are considered equal and cannot be denied tenancy based on: age, colour, creed, ethnic/national origin, family status, marital status, physical or intellectual disability, political belief, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or source of income.

New Brunswick adds ancestory to the list.

In Nova Scotia discrimination also extends to a landlord’s rejection of a tenant based upon an “irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease,” as well as an association with protected groups or individuals.

Yukon & NWT

In the Yukon, landlords cannot reject tenants based on: Ancestry, including colour or race, national origin, ethnic or linguistic background/origin, religion or creed, age, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, criminal charges or criminal record, political belief, association, or activity, marital or family status, source of income, actual or presumed association with any of the grounds that are listed.

The grounds for discrimination are the same in the North West Territories and also include: gender identity, family affiliation, and social inclusion.

What you can do to get the good tenants you need

The Commission suggests that, in order to attract the right tenants for your property, you should:

  • Describe the unit, not the tenant
  • List the rent, size of the apartment, amenities, and other appealing features of the property (not the “ideal” person or people)

For example, when renting a basement unit do not place an ad with the following:

  • Perfect apartment for a student, or
  • Ideal for a single professional.”

Instead, you can advertise your basement  apartment by stating:

  • Bright, cozy bachelor basement apartment, new kitchen cabinets, full bath, access to storage locker, shared laundry in friendly 5-unit building. $750 per month including hydro and heat. On 2 bus routes, close to university, park, shops, community centre.

Finally, when verifying whether or not a tenant will reliably pay rent, you can ask for a variety of information, such as:

  • Rental history
  • Credit references and/or credit checks (but do not view a lack of rental or credit history as meaning that a person cannot pay their rent. Young people, newcomers, women returning to the workforce after long periods of care-giving or the end of a marriage, and other people may have little or no rental or credit history, which is not the same as a bad credit rating.
  • References
  • Income verification
  • Credit checks (such as through Equifax)

However, you cannot apply rent-to-income ratios, such as a 30% cut-off rule.

For more information on the recent crackdown in Ontario, go to the Ontario Human Rights Commission website.

14 comments on “Landlords beware: crackdown on discrimination in rental ads

  1. Where's info for Saskatchewan?

    Reply

  2. if you own the property it should be your choice as to who you rent to, putting things in the add just saves everyone time.

    Reply

    • Kyle,
      Are you a landlord? Have you had difficulty with tenants in the past?
      I ask because I think landlords can get quite frustrating with the restrictive rules Landlord and Tenants Boards have when it comes to evicting problem tenants. I’d love to hear your side of the story.

      Reply

      • The LTA is a governing body that tells people trying to cover their mortgage with how to run a business, and provides only punitive services to the Landlord.

        It is the only allowable venue in Canada where a bounced check is construed as effort on the tenant’s part, and not fraud. Thusly, tenants avoid a credit rating bloodbath whilst people are losing their homes.

        Reply

    • Agreed.

      Reply

    • Yeah I agree. A home as a very important asset and 50% of one months rent for damage deposit is ridiculous, It doesn’t cover anything. But thankfully by discriminating within legal bounds I have never had an issue with my tenants. EVER.
      And I thank facebook for allowing people to share everything about themselves, it makes the review process so much easier last few years.
      I don’t discriminate in any of my ads but its a complete waste of time showing the home to people that won’t qualify the review of the application process. After 15 years, I’m at 100% accuracy of which people are a waste of time and space, If the initial email or phone call doesn’t convince me, meeting the person does, and the application review confirms my first impression, every time.
      Life would be so much more fair for everyone if you could just state exactly what your looking for.
      It’s like creating an online dating profile but the gov’t says, “don’t mention what your looking for just say that you, enjoy walks on the beach”.
      Oh baby I hear wedding bells!
      Imagine having to go on a date with every person on the website including both genders, all races, and education and income levels and no picture…. WTF!!!!!
      Oh i see you have 4 kids that are behaving horribly in the first 5 minutes of our date, and you don’t want to take off your shoes in my house, that’s ok, I’m not allowed to ask any questions about the needle marks on your arm, but how about I invite you to meet my parents now, and lets get married for a year. Is this an ideal situation? I can tell you right now that’s not the wife of my dreams!
      Now apply that thought process to a 250k-800k rental investment. wow this suddenly seems outrageous right? At least I can walk away from the date, now you have a contract that makes it nearly impossible to give the person the boot. AWESOME! The reality is, there is a reason why you can specify what you are looking for in every other aspect of life, it saves time and effort and hardships for both parties involved.

      I have another example, go ask a stranger on the street to order you food from anywhere he decides, and state the type of food you want fits the parameter of ; “im hungry”, so you don’t discriminate all the cultures and food costs.

      Odds are you get a slice of pizza and a broken window.

      I’m sure if you specified you wanted a $100 Chinese platter with no coupon, you would most likely get it narrowed down to what you require.

      Reply

  3. Ever since the transmission lines project started here the rents have sky rocketed! Many people on fixed incomes are struggling and the mentally and physical handicapped suffer because landlords won’t say it but if they see you with a mentally handicapped adult they will evict you at the first possible chance!citing renovations are needed right after you move in! A lot of aboriginals have been evicted because they have too much family who come to visit!ridiculous! A lot of first nations people here are finding it difficult to find rentals be a use they prefer working people or people who are not aboriginals! They just make money off our lands then try to get rid of us! What else is new in Canada? The home of first nations! When are things going g to change?

    Reply

    • Margaret,
      Which city are you located in? I’d like to do a bit of digging into this problem.
      Romana

      Reply

  4. I am so very glad there is the Ontario Human Right Board and the Landlord Tenant Board in Ontario.

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  5. This is a small apartment. We cannot fit 10-12 people in it or we will have the City after us.

    Your rottweiler will just have to get another home; the landlord is terrified and cannot gain access to her property.

    To get the cat pee out of the floors, who will pay for ripping the place down to the studs

    We have all female students here. When one gets raped by a rights-toting male, who pays for her lawsuit

    What do we tell the hundreds of OW recipients when they are turned down over and over. We did not set OW payments, and we will not see someone go hungry because most of their payment goes to rent – and cigarettes.

    Who is standing for the landlord, who must now uphold those laws, when they are tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

    And when that landlord has a disability, and must endure this, who represents their rights

    True story

    Reply

  6. Once again, this is a very tenant-centric piece.

    Many if not most small landlords are female. As a female landlord, I have a higher incidence of “negotiating”, rudeness and disrespect from the general public. For example, I had a tenant walk out on me last night because I am (long term 10 yr clean and sober, and she did not want to be around people who were addicts.

    Imagine, if you will, if a really big guy shows up alone and “wants to see the room”. Imagine if I rent out the room, and he rapes another tenant. The victim could sue ME! My ads say “female” because it is all I can handle. Put me in jail, it’s all female too.

    Reply

  7. Very disappointed in this article – and it;s SO typical to pass right over Saskatchewan. Not only does it show a lack of attention to the geography of this country, but Saskatchewan has had the WORST vacancy rate due to people coming here to find work because they can’t find work in their own provinces. If anything, Saskatchewan should have been the TOP of the list as the landlords get away with whatever they want because of the vacancy rate, no rent controls and no accountability!

    Reply

  8. I don’t understand what you mean by “Ideal for quite couple”
    Ideal for a couple that’s very couple-ish? Do you mean QUIET??

    Reply

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