How to Write a Rental Ad (That Doesn’t Discriminate)

by Chris on July 18, 2011

Over the past few years, housing websites have become an increasingly popular way to both advertise and look for housing.

Unfortunately, in a recent study conducted by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, up to 20% of online ads for smaller rental housing units contained statements that were either directly or potentially discriminatory.

Generally, most landlords and tenants want to comply with housing-related laws. As a resource, the Commission has developed some tips to help landlords write non-discriminatory housing ads:

Some ads openly discriminate.  Avoid phrases like these:

“Adult building” or “Not suitable for children.”
“Must have working income” or “Must provide proof of employment.”
“No ODSP.”
“Seeking mature couple.”

These ads discriminate because they show the landlord’s preference of some people over others based on Human Rights Code grounds like marital or family status, age, disability or receipt of public assistance (including if a person’s income is from student loans, a disability program, pension or retirement funds).

Other ads discriminate by accident.

For example, some landlords, list “selling points” to attract tenants, but make statements that may discriminate even if they don’t mean to. This often happens when landlords are trying to appeal to people you think may like the rental unit.

Some examples are:

“Ideal for quiet couple.”
“Suitable for single professional.”
“Perfect for female student.”
“Suits mature individual or couple.”
“Great for working folks or students.”

These statements suggest that the landlord prefers some people over others based on the Code grounds listed above. These ads discourage good tenants from applying, because they think they won’t be treated fairly.

Other common statements that might discriminate include:

“Not soundproof”, which may indicate bias against families with children.
“No pets.” Persons with disabilities who use service animals such as guide dogs can not be denied access to any kind of housing based on a “no pets” rule.

One easy way to avoid discriminatory language is to describe the unit, not the tenant. Instead of naming the ”ideal” person or people for the unit, list the rent, size and other information about the unit itself, the building, and nearby services that may appeal to tenants.

Example: Renting a smaller basement unit

The wrong way: “Perfect apartment for a student” or “ideal for a single professional.”

The problem: Others who may also wish to rent it, such as a couple, a single parent, a senior or a person receiving assistance, may think the landlord will not accept their application, even if they are able to pay the rent.

The right way: “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.”

Source of Income Discrimination

Residents don’t have to be working to have money to pay the rent. Research shows that people living on social assistance, pensions or retirement income are just as likely to pay their rent as people who are working.

Income information should be reviewed in conjunction with any other available information on rental history, credit references and credit checks in choosing a qualified applicant.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.


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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah Spagnuolo July 23, 2011 at 10:17 am

Thanks for the specific examples. That’s always helpful to see examples when writing an ad, whether it’s for an online site or news print.

John January 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Often ability to pay can be a red flag. I have had a number of applicants that want to pay 6 months rent up front, for instance, “all cash”. It turns out they want to set up an illegal pot farm or drug lab. I always reserve some other reason for denying that type of applicant. I would refer you to another article listed here “The Right Way to Reject a Rental Applicant ” for some ideas on how to do that. Red flags come in many different colors and you must be ready to respond to them correctly.

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