The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal recently awarded a rental applicant $2,000 because she was rejected after disclosing she suffered from depression.
In this case, there was a question as to whether the prospective tenant actually suffered from a disability, and in fact, the Tribunal determined that it was unlikely. The woman had been treated nearly two decades earlier for a “mental illness”, the illness had not been addressed by her regular doctor, and she had stopped taking medication for the condition.
However, the tenant claimed that she still suffers symptoms of this earlier diagnosis. Because the landlord appears to have perceived that the woman had a disability, it did not matter whether the disability was real.
After an initial property tour, the tenant asked the landlord to drop the rent $30 per month. The landlord agreed to the rent decrease. However, the landlord asked the tenant to tour the property a second time to make certain the woman would like the rental unit.
During a second property tour, the prospective tenant disclosed that she was on government assistance. The landlord then made a tenant screening mistake — she asked the prospective tenant why she was on assistance.
The tenant testified that the landlord became silent after hearing about the disability, and then later told the tenant that she would not be able to use the back yard. The landlord also said that she might delay the move-in date, purportedly to work on the property.
This is a case of asking for the wrong information in the tenant screening process. Tenants with disabilities often receive such assistance. What matters is that the tenant has a reliable source of income to cover the rent, not whether the tenant suffers from a mental or emotional disability.
Tenant screening questions should be phrased to illicit only qualifying information. One way to avoid mistakes is to ask the same questions of everyone, and to ask only questions that seem appropriate for every applicant.
Landlords cannot use disability, or in this case a perceived disability, to reject an applicant, or to change the terms or conditions of the rental because of that information. Once disclosed, it is very difficult to reject a tenant, even if for other legitimate reasons, without creating the appearance of impropriety. That’s because the disability need not be the sole factor for the adverse action, but rather a factor in that decision.
There was a potential red flag in this case. The applicant was moving from her current residence because she was offended by some common noises and a litany of other issues. The landlord appears to have picked up on what could have been a finicky or overly-sensitive nature, and was concerned that the tenant would not be happy in the new unit, either.
But then, the landlord appears to have used the tenant’s personal disclosure in the decision. After learning of the disability, the landlord discouraged the applicant from renting. It appears that, shortly after putting the applicant off, the landlord rented the property to someone else.
The Tribunal found those actions were based on a perceived disability, and as such were discriminatory. Accordingly, the court awarded damages of $2,000 to the tenant for injury to dignity. Here, the tenant did not present any specific evidence of financial loss or more extensive injury. However, in its decision, the Tribunal explained that the typical range for damages of this nature is between $1,500 to $15,000.
In addition to paying the monetary award, the landlord was ordered to avoid making this mistake in the future.
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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.