Landlord’s Tenant Screening Policies Found Discriminatory

by Chris on January 30, 2012

A landlord who says she rejected a prospective tenant because he had no credit discriminated against the man, according to a recent decision by a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The 55-year old applicant applied for tenancy four different times, and was rejected each time. The man suffered a brain injury at 17 and consequently receives a disability pension.

In his first application, he stated “disability pension” under “income”, and for references he noted groups he attended which are known to offer assistance to persons with disabilities.

At first, the landlord did not offer a reason for the rejection.  She testified that she had attended a landlord seminar which taught that it is “better not to say anything as we were not obligated to do so and as it was felt that it would protect us from misunderstandings.”

The presiding Tribunal Member responded to those statements, writing “A landlord may choose to give no reason for rejecting a rental application.  However, this is not a protection from the application of the (Human Rights) Code.”  The Member continues, “If a prospective tenant asks for a reason they were rejected and the landlord refuses to give one, the tenant, if a member of a protected group, may have grounds to ask the Tribunal to infer a prima facie case of discrimination.”

The landlord was asked to explain her tenant screening process to the Tribunal.  She said that she always requires a rental application, and that if an application is incomplete, she may reject the applicant.  Her next step is to run a credit check on the applicant under consideration.  She stated that she gives great weight to the credit report

Because this applicant had the habit of paying cash, his report came back showing no credit.  The landlord maintains that this is why he was rejected.

The Member pointed out that the landlord’s rental application form provided a section for “other” credit information in addition to the lines provided for traditional credit accounts.  The landlord testified that she had meant to take that out. 

In later testimony, she admitted that she views credit on a “case by case” basis, and that in other situations, she has accepted other documentation in addition to a credit report, like a year’s worth of paid hydro bills, when considering rental applications. 

The applicant in this case was able to provide proof of consistent payments of utility bills and auto insurance.  He also offered stellar references, including his former landlord who could verify that he lived in the same property for 19 years without incident.  However, the  landlord testified that she did not find the information on past rental history helpful.

The prospective tenant asked the landlord to reconsider, but was not successful.  Not knowing why he was rejected, this applicant enlisted the help of others and revised his rental application a number of times.  Each of the applications was rejected. 

At one point in this dispute, the landlord began faxing written reasons for the rejections.  These lists included multiple “mistakes” that rendered an application “incomplete”, and therefore unacceptable.  Each of the enumerated lists also included the allegation that the man’s credit was the reason for the rejection, although it was not listed as the sole reason.

Concerning the man’s credit report, the landlord testified that her concerns were not that he may be committing fraud or that he couldn’t pay the rent, but rather that without some open line of credit he might not be able to deal with financial emergencies that could arise in the future.

Contrary to her claim that the applicant was rejected for his credit, during a session of dispute resolution, the landlord blurted out statements that suggested that she was concerned about the man’s ability to take care of himself and the property.  At one point, she made reference to her perception that he was an alcoholic and stated that she was not “running a group home.”    

The landlord also submitted a written statement where she claimed that she did not want to rent to a “man who has no job”, and that this applicant’s rent is “half his income and will be going up.” 

The Member believed that the landlord’s testimony appeared “scripted”, and this detracted from her credibility. After a series of contradictory statements between the landlord’s direct examination and the cross-examination, her testimony was ultimately discounted.  The Member writes, “When there is an inconsistency between her testimony and that of others, I prefer others.”

The Member rejected the notion that the applicant was denied housing because of  his credit report.  Rather, the Member believed that the decision to reject the applicant was  based either on an “erroneous conclusion” that the applicant was not financially responsible, or it was a complete contrivance to cover the real reasons for the rejection: the applicant’s disability, and his related source of income.   The Member found that the landlord “applied stereotypical assumptions” regarding the man’s ability to care for himself despite his disability, and that her reasons for rejecting this applicant were “speculative and unjustified.” 

The landlord has been ordered to cease discriminating against this applicant.  The Tribunal will assess a monetary judgement in an amount to be determined at a later date.

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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