Landlord Basics: 4 Ways to Avoid Housing Discrimination

by Chris on March 30, 2015

Human rights violations can occur when a landlord denies housing to a renter based on factors such as race (colour, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship), religion/creed, sex (gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation), age, marital and family status (children), disability and source of income.

1. Avoid Discrimination in Rental Ads

 tenant screeningThe rental ad might contain discriminatory language. An advertisement cannot suggest that certain tenants won’t be accepted because they fall into one of the classes above.

Common examples are excluding children or individuals on government assistance.

However, discriminatory language often is more subtle. For example, touting the property as perfect for “young professionals” or “singles” may seem an innocent description of the property, but those words could discourage families with children.

Here’s a good rule to follow when drafting a rental ad: use the ad to describe the property, and not the tenant who you believe would be a good fit. That way, you will avoid controversial words like single, married, mature, children, male, female, church, assistance and so on.

2. Be Fair When Screening Tenants

To avoid discrimination in the tenant screening process, but sure to:

Develop and apply a standard tenant screening policies. Uniformity is crucial. Your policies, from initial intake phone call through lease signing, should solicit only the information necessary to determine qualifications. Tailor your rental application so that the same questions can be asked of every applicant, and eliminate questions that don’t go to the heart of the individual’s qualifications.

Avoid tenant screening policies that create hurdles some qualified applicants will never be able to clear. For example, requiring that an otherwise qualified tenant have a credit card or savings in case of emergency may be going too far. Requiring employment in Canada or a specific number of years employment is problematic for someone who otherwise has sufficient income. Demanding a specific credit score or lengthy credit history may adversely impact new Canadians or women who are recently divorced or widowed — applicants who might otherwise qualify.

3. Continue to Act Like a Pro

Discrimination does not occur only in the tenant screening process. It often stems from the day-to-day management of existing tenants. To avoid claims, continue to actively manage the rental property, including tending to repairs and maintenance.  Apply leasing policies, like routine property inspections, uniformly to all tenants. Don’t be reactionary. Pay attention to how a deviation in your policies might impact any one class of tenants more than others.

Landlords are responsible for shielding tenants from discrimination, including harassment, by other tenants. Take complaints seriously, and show no tolerance towards tenants who bully or intimidate other tenants.

4. Be Careful What You Say

A landlord in Ontario learned a hard lesson when the discrimination case against him was initially dismissed for lack of evidence, but then reinstated after the landlord made racially-charged remarks in a newspaper interview.

It is impossible to tell whether you are speaking with a rental applicant or with a housing advocate who is testing your leasing practices.  Be honest — don’t tell an applicant that the vacancy is filled when it is not — but don’t volunteer your social views to strangers or attempt to garner support for a discriminatory viewpoint from another tenant or rental applicant.

Those words can be grounds for a discrimination claim even where you have rented to the protected tenant.

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.

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