What you should know about your housing rights: Part II
As a tenant or a prospective tenant – in Canada, you have legal rights. These legal rights apply not only once you have secured housing in Canada, but also while you are painstakingly searching for housing, in what is today a very difficult housing market in many cities across Canada.
In part two of our series on housing discrimination, we continue to explore common discriminatory situations newcomers seeking housing experience; situations that unfortunately, do happen despite what Canadian human rights laws prescribe about discrimination.
“It has become a landlord’s market,” says Vic Natola, Community Rights Advisor and Intake Coordinator, Parkdale Community Legal Services. “Landlords feel very comfortable asking for things that are illegal or taking advantage of people who don’t know what the law is or what their rights are until it’s too late. It’s so important for people to understand the basics and know where they can turn to for help.”
Her bottom line: if something doesn’t feel right while you are searching for housing, chances are it is illegal. And here are some situations and what you should know about your housing and legal rights. For part I of the series, click here.
Situation 1: A landlord won’t rent to you because you are receiving social assistance.
What you should know: It is a violation of your human rights to be refused housing because you are receiving the majority of your income from social assistance supports. The unfortunate reality, however, is that the search for a rental unit if you are on social assistance is essentially the search for a landlord or property manager who will be willing to rent to you.
What you can do: Ask the landlord if direct payment of rent from your local social services office will lessen their fears about your ability to pay the monthly rent. You could also offer to provide the name of a co-signor or guarantor (a person or organization who will pay the rent should you not be able to). Note though that landlords should never require you to provide direct payment or a guarantor just because you are receiving social assistance.
Situation 2: Your landlord regularly asks you questions such as: “Are you seeing anyone?” or “It’s time you get a boyfriend” whenever he comes into your unit to make repairs. When you say these questions make you uncomfortable, you are told to “lighten up” and the landlord has refused to make any more repairs or maintenance visits to your unit.
What you should know: It is illegal under human rights legislation for a landlord to harass a tenant on the basis of any protected ground of discrimination, in this case sex and/or gender. This also refers to sexual solicitation, when landlords who are in a position to grant or deny a benefit, make sexual advances knowing that the advances are unwelcome.
What you can do: Keep notes of your interaction with your landlord. Tell your landlord there is a problem (written communication is best so you have records), talk to your neighbours to find out if other tenants have similar problems, and file a complaint with a rental housing enforcement agency in your city or province. You may also want to try getting help from a community legal clinic. Sometimes a letter or phone call from a lawyer or legal worker can get a landlord to change their behaviour very quickly.
Situation 3: A landlord tells you that you have too many children for the number of bedrooms in a unit you’re interested in.
What you should know: Landlords should not refuse to rent to you because you have children, or because the apartment is “too small” unless they would be breaking municipal health and safety or over-crowding By-Laws by renting to you. They also are not allowed to show you only certain units or floors that they say are better for a family with children. Landlords should also never refuse to rent to your family because of arbitrary rules forbidding children of the opposite sex from sharing bedrooms, or declaring a unit “not suitable for children.” Similarly, landlords are not allowed to call a building ‘adult-only’ or ‘adult lifestyle’ as doing so constitutes discrimination. Note that some of these ads may do so unintentionally as they try to appeal to people that they think might like the rental unit.
What you can do: Keep notes of what happened. Keep copies of your rental application and any communication you have with the landlord. Keep copies of any letters, e-mails, text messages, and advertisements or listings about the place. If the landlord told you the place was no longer available, check to see if that’s true. Is it still listed online? You might even want to have a friend call the landlord to inquire about availability.
If you believe you are being refused for housing because of your family composition, you may want to involve a third party, like a housing help centre. Sometimes a landlord might change their mind if they understand that what they are doing is against the law.
No matter the situation, write everything down if you believe you are experiencing housing discrimination, regardless of whether you intend to file an official complaint. “It’s important to document the date, time, who you spoke to, what was said, and if anyone was with you,” explains Natola.
“Whenever you take any kind of next steps whether its calling the your municipal government or if it’s going to the Human Rights Tribunal or the Landlord and Tenant Board, if you can present a log, i.e. if you can set up a story or a narrative it’s way more believable. You’re trying to establish a narrative that makes sense and that shows that you’ve been trying to live your life but you’re also not willing to be pushed around.”
Also keep the name of a local housing help centre or housing advocacy office on hand. They offer helpful services (that are free) to tenants and renters, including trying to negotiate with your future or current landlord and can assist you in filing a human rights application (complaint), should you decide to take that route.
“The Centre for Equality Rights and Accommodation specifically helps people who think there is a human rights situation as part of a complaint against a landlord. Outside of legal aid clinics, most city counselor have some kind of constituency assistance. Reach out to your city counselor. Housing help centres in larger cities exist in places where it’s particularly hard to find housing. That’s where you can go and you can sometimes get a worker to help work with you, particularly if English isn’t your first language.”
“There are lots of supports out there for tenants, thankfully,” says Natola.
To read part I of the article, click here.