An Ontario landlord was ordered to pay $15,000 and attend Human Rights training after rejecting a couple applying for a vacancy because the husband was not white.
According to a published decision at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, when the wife responded to a Kijiji ad for a townhouse for rent, the landlord responded by email, “Can you tell me how many people to rent and your nationality and must be white.”
The applicant responded, “I am white, but my husband is not. Is that ok?”
The landlord replied, “Sorry, no.”
The applicant took screenshots of these messages but was unable to identify the landlord through the rental advertising platform. However, the applicant’s sister was able to respond to the ad using an alternative platform. She received the same message indicating only white applicants would be considered.
The sister responded, “Are you kidding me?”
The landlord then replied, “I don’t rent to bad tenants.”
This time, the landlord’s identity was revealed in the email message, and the applicants filed a claim in the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The landlord did not file a response or participate in the litigation.
The Tribunal’s decision with respect to the husband was based on the express language of the Human Rights Code:
“Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability, or the receipt of public assistance.”
While the wife was white and therefore not a member of a protected class, the Tribunal explains that the Human Rights Code anticipates discrimination based on a relationship or association with a person who is protected. The HRTO previously has held that a person in a relationship with another who faces prohibited conduct can claim discrimination for adverse treatment if the treatment stems from that relationship.
As a result, the Tribunal awarded $7,500 to each applicant. This is consistent with previous HRTO decision in cases where the applicant was rejected as opposed to being forced to move out due to persistent discrimination. In those cases, awards can range from $20,000-$40,000, according to the decision.
While this case was an obvious violation of Human Rights, it is easy for landlords to run afoul of these rules by not taking steps to prevent the mistake. For instance, asking about someone’s origin — “Where are you from?” — can be an innocent slip-up made for the sake of conversation, but it can have lasting impacts on the rental applicant who suffers humiliation. Asking about marital status or relationship status between roommates likewise can cause unnecessary injury and income loss.
But landlords also should take note of the business case for avoiding Human Rights Code violations. Setting qualifications based on stereotyping is a high-risk strategy for finding good tenants. Prospective renters who fall within the preferred demographic are not necessarily qualified. Advertising for a young, older, single, married, religious, white, or professional applicant is illegal. Professional tenants — those who make a habit of skipping out on rent — openly admit they look for landlords who don’t know the law. Those landlords, they say, are the easiest to exploit.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is 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.