Rental Discrimination in Canada

It’s old news, but worthy of writing about. Back in January the CBC reported a story of a young couple that was denied their right to rent an apartment. What’s noteworthy here is that they were denied based on their age. Of course, this is a discriminatory practice and not allowed under the Residential Tenancies Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

You may ask yourself how does something like this happen in today’s 2017 world, and the answer is pretty simple; Micro landlords.

The couple in question was trying to rent out a condominium unit from an investor-owned unit. These are not large professional landlords that own and operate hundreds of purpose built apartments, rather a small time landlord who owns one of a handful of units. To these types of landlords, each tenant presents a much larger risk as they don’t have the latitude of many apartments to offset costs should they have a bad tenant that doesn’t pay rent or causes significant damage to their units.

The large professional landlords would never discriminate (openly) in such a fashion as they typically have more thorough processes that rely heavily on an individual’s ability to pay rent (proof of income and credit score).

The couple can attempt to take the landlord to a Human Rights Tribunal or the Tenant Landlord Board tribunal. However, they would still need a place to live in the meantime, and the result would likely be more punitive to the landlord and less monetary compensation for their efforts. Effectively, they’re better to forget about this and move on.

Now if this were the USA the situation would be very different. In the USA they have something called the Fair Housing Act. This Act is far more disciplinary and far-reaching, and landlords are very wary not to be in violation of these rules.

If you’re found to be in violation, penalties can include:

  • A charge against you by the U.S. Departing of Housing and Urban Development where you’ll need to attend several hearings and defend the claim in from of a HUD Administrative Law Judge.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice may pursue the case on behalf of the claimant.
  • The complainant may be awarded compensatory damages that could include out-of-pocket expenses while finding alternative housing, rent fees associated with alternative housing, legal fees to process the claim.
  • Non-economic damages may also be awarded for humiliation, mental anguish and psychological injuries. These are in addition to the above-mentioned out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Civil penalties may be levied up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations. In cases where the Justice Department is involved civil penalties can be even more and go up to $100,000.
  • Punitive damages may also be awarded by federal courts. These aren’t damages to reimburse the complainant, but rather damages to punish the wrongdoer where there is clear evidence of willful or malicious intent.
  • Attorney’s fees may be awarded to the prevailing party.
  • Courts may issue injunctions if they feel prompt action is necessary to prevent immediate and irreparable harm.

As you can see from above, the Fair Housing Act has teeth and does a good job of protecting vulnerable renters. While I believe our current (Ontario) legislation to be heavily prohibitive towards landlords in favour of tenants, regarding actual gravity for violations, our laws could take a lesson or two from our southern neighbours. Perhaps only then will legislators feel comfortable to loosen the current prohibitive legislation that hamstring landlords (e.g. ease eviction rules, etc…)… The greater the risk, the greater the rewards.

Josh Vinegar

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