Truth be told – I haven’t written a post in a long time. But I was inspired to write this post based on a small statement that was written on the MLS system with a seemingly innocent intent:
“Landlord prefers small family”
I didn’t know the agent, but I texted her right away and said, “You know that’s a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code?” and she had no clue. Unfortunately, the curriculum for getting a real estate license in Ontario does not include education about the Ontario Human Rights Code, which was created in 1962 to prohibit actions that discriminate against people because of any of the following:
- Ancestry, place of origin & race
- Skin colour
- Disability & receipt of assistance
- Family status
- Marital status
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
… just to name a few. In the workplace, it’s the reason why nobody includes a photo with their resume, and why your potential employer cannot ask you if you have children. In popular media, we’ve seen cases of sexual harassment victims fighting back against their superiors in the #MeToo movement.
Discrimination can take many forms, including some that are more direct, but there are also cases where indirect discrimination occurs. An example might be a bank’s lending policy that makes it unfairly difficult for new immigrants to arrange mortgage financing, or an organization having height and weight requirements, which may unfairly discriminate against people of ethnic backgrounds with lower average height.
What do these examples have in common? The victims have a basic desire to be treated as equal to others
Let me be clear – I’m not a lawyer, and I suggest you seek proper advice based on anything written here. My intention is to shine light on the issue without judgment. Do all human beings have biases? Some think so. Can we all improve? Absolutely.
We see numerous examples of Human Rights violations in real estate, particularly when it comes to Landlords choosing Tenants. From property descriptions to conversations in negotiation of offers, there are hundreds of violations every single day.
Here are some examples of discrimination:
- “I only want to rent to single females.”
- “I don’t want any people who practice [RELIGION] living in my rental property.”
- “[INSERT RACE] has smelly cooking. I don’t want them in my house.”
- “That person has a wheelchair, and they will damage my floors.”
- “That woman is pregnant, and I don’t want to hear the baby crying.”
- And so on…
Now there are some interesting exceptions to note:
- SMOKING: In Ontario, under the Residential Tenancies Act, you can include a no-smoking clause in any lease. However, you cannot evict a Tenant later because they broke their promise made in the lease and began smoking. There are also Human Rights cases where the argument has been made that smoking is a disability, so it can be a complicated issue.
- PETS: The Ontario Residential Tenancies Act says that any provision in a lease preventing pets is void. Unless this is a condominium whose declaration prohibits pets, there is little the landlord can do in these situations.
- CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS: Yes, you CAN discriminate against previous criminal convictions in housing, but not for employment reasons.
- SHARED ACCOMODATIONS: You CAN freely discriminate as much as you like… IF you’re sharing a washroom or kitchen with a Tenant. I can’t make this stuff up. Also, if a building is restricted to just men or women, that’s allowed too.
- LOWER OFFERS: Sellers and Landlords may choose to accept lower offers from other interested parties because the terms of another offer are better.
- VEGANISM: You can discriminate based on somebody’s love of meat. Seriously.
- PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS: Yes, you can choose better looking people… if you like. It happens all the time in the workplace, and surprisingly it does not violate the Human Rights Code. As a general practice, try not to make it the ONLY reason you choose someone to work for you or to rent your home. Tight-fitting outfits? It’s complicated.
- BEHAVIOUR: As far as I can tell, you may discriminate against people who are late, people who have poor personal hygiene (although be careful because there may be an argument here for a disability), people who track mud into your house, or people who are rude.
So what to do? Here are some best practices:
- In real estate advertising, focus on the benefits of the home and not any type of target audience.
- Discrimination behind closed doors is still discrimination.
- If you are a real estate agent and your client provides you with discriminatory instructions (and you follow them), you are just as guilty as they are. Wrong is wrong, and it’s your duty to call out any form of discrimination.
- With fines ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 in most cases, it’s our duty as Landlords and Realtors to be aware of discrimination practices at all times.
As you can see, it’s a very complicated issue. I found a few articles for extra reading:
Brampton landlord feels ‘powerless’ after being labelled religion-based human rights violator (Toronto Sun, May 2017)
Human rights for tenants (Ontario Human Rights Commission)
I think my human rights have been violated. What should I do? (Ontario Human Rights Commission)