Court Sets New Standard for Housing Discrimination

by Chris on November 19, 2012

British Columbia’s highest court has ruled that sexual harassment by a landlord can constitute discrimination under the Human Rights Code.

As a result, a landlord has been ordered to pay his former tenant nearly $20,000 after his gifts and unwelcome advances were deemed sexual harassment.

This behaviour included:

Romantic gifts, including flowers, and chocolates;

Installing a mirror in the bathroom and telling the tenant she was a “beautiful” woman;

Asking questions about the tenant’s romantic relationships;

Referring to himself as a “sexy, hardworking man”;

Inappropriate touching; and,

Derogatory comments about a male visitor.

Earlier, the Human Rights Tribunal heard the tenant’s complaint and concluded that the landlord either knew or ought to have known that these comments and actions would be unwelcome advances toward a female tenant. 

The Tribunal Member then concluded that the tenant was a victim of housing discrimination, and awarded her $1,922.84 for expenses, $10,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, and $7,500 in costs.

The landlord appealed that ruling to the B.C. Supreme Court, which set aside the verdict of the Tribunal, finding that the law was not so well settled as to conclude that allegations concerning sexual harassment support a claim for discrimination in rental housing.

The tenant then appealed, and the B.C. Court of Appeal looked to the Residential Tenancy Act to establish the grounds to sue for discrimination under these facts. Specifically, the Court of Appeal found that the tenant was entitled to quiet enjoyment, reasonable privacy, and freedom from unreasonable disturbance, including the right to exclusive possession subject only to the landlord’s right to enter for emergencies or with proper notice.

The Justice writes, “In my view, a female tenant is entitled to quiet enjoyment of her apartment free of sexual harassment in the same way that a female employee is entitled to a work environment free of sexual harassment.”  The judicial panel of three concluded that by sexually harassing the tenant, the landlord was discriminating against her regarding a condition of her tenancy, namely quiet enjoyment.

In its decision, the Court made reference to cases in the United States establishing the right to sue for discrimination in similar situations.

The landlord argued that in order to prove the case for discrimination, the tenant would have to show that male tenants received better treatment. However, the Court of Appeal found that the tenant need only show that gender was a factor in adverse treatment.  The court further states that it would not have been necessary to prove that other women were subject to the same harassment in order to prove the case for gender discrimination.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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