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Human Rights and rental housing in Ontario: Background paper

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Approved by the Commission: March 28, 2007
Available in various formats: electronic, audiotape, large print


It is difficult to overstate the importance of adequate housing to an individual’s ability to fully participate in and be a part of his or her community. Adequate housing is a necessity. It is also a prime indicator of an individual’s overall quality of life. Housing provides the foundation for interacting with the broader community and for general well-being and social inclusion. Adequate housing facilitates access to suitable employment, community resources and supports, and educational opportunities for all Ontarians.

Housing that is not adequate and stable, because it is in a state of bad repair, overcrowded, unaffordable, or in an unsafe neighbourhood, can cause an enormous amount of stress to its inhabitants. International studies have established links between inadequate, unstable housing and poor health. For example, inadequate housing has been linked to health ailments such as birth defects, higher rates of asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease.[1] Further, “[t]he use of pesticides, pests, lead paint, leaking pipes, all of which are associated with poor housing can also bring on symptoms of ill health.”[2]

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the ”Commission”) has heard for some time now about discrimination in rental housing arrangements. [3] In 2000, the Commission held a province-wide consultation on discrimination and age. Throughout that consultation, the Commission received much input on human rights issues affecting older persons in rental housing. As a result, in its 2001 report, Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians, the Commission committed to developing a paper specifically on housing and human rights.[4] In other initiatives, the Commission has explored the role that one’s social and economic condition may play in one’s ability to access basic necessities, such as housing.[5] As well, in 2005, the Commission conducted a consultation on discrimination and harassment that occurs on the basis of an individual’s family status.[6] During this consultation, the Commission also received much feedback on specific discriminatory practices that occur in the context of rental housing. The Commission heard that these practices occur not only on the ground of family status, but also on other grounds, such as race, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability and receipt of public assistance.

It is evident from the feedback received that many Ontarians are entirely unaware of their rights and their obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) with respect to rental housing. Many rental accommodations take place as largely informal arrangements. Housing providers may not be aware that the Code prohibits them from specifying certain types of restrictions in the rental of their units. For example, many continue to advertise apartments as “adults only”, not recognizing that this restriction is in direct violation of the Code.

While the Code protects against discrimination in a broad range of situations relating to housing, this Paper will focus on residential tenancies, or rental housing arrangements. Housing studies indicate that those who live in rental housing are persons, typically, who have lower incomes and who are disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and therefore identified by the Code.[7] As such, the paper does not review discrimination in the purchase of property or the negotiation of mortgages, for example, or, human rights issues that occur in condominium living arrangements, such as discriminatory restrictions on the use of shared spaces. However, it should be noted that such practices would also constitute violations of the Code, and a housing or service provider who engages in these behaviours is vulnerable to having a human rights complaint filed against it.

When someone is denied adequate rental housing or is treated differently because of his or her family status, age, race, sex, disability, receipt of public assistance or other Code-related ground, he or she is denied the ability to be a full participant in the community. The same is true when an individual is treated in a discriminatory manner or subjected to harassment in the course of occupying rental housing. For example, exorbitant security deposits required of new Canadians by landlords may mean that families new to Canada have very limited choices when it comes to where and how they will live. This, in turn, will affect their ability to access a whole array of other community services, and will have a significant impact on their overall ability to adjust to their new homeland.

In order to fulfil the objectives of the preamble to the Code, for example, “to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination”[8], adequate and affordable rental housing is essential. As the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada have observed:

How can we integrate and increase the productivity of new Canadians, our aboriginal peoples, our disabled and single parent families if we cannot start with access to decent affordable housing? How can we expect our health policies and our educational programs to succeed without accessible affordable housing as the foundation? How can we support those suffering from addictions or mental illness or family violence without being certain that they have safe, decent housing?[9]

This Paper is intended to provide an overview of the social and legal context for understanding the human rights issues in the area of rental housing. The Commission sees this Paper as the background for a broad exploration of human rights issues in the area of rental housing.

[1] S. Chisholm, Affordable Housing in Canada’s Urban Communities: A Literature Review prepared for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (July 2003) at 23, online: <> (date accessed: October 26, 2006).
[2] Ibid.
[3] The scope of this Paper is discrimination and harassment in the social area of “occupancy of accommodation”, also referred to simply as “housing.”
[4] See Ontario Human Rights Commission, Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians (Toronto: Queen’s Printer, 2003) at 74.
[5] For more information on the Commission’s work in this area, please see the section of this Paper entitled Social and Economic Condition.
[6] In May 2005, the Commission published a Discussion Paper entitled, Human Rights & the Family in Ontario, which outlined key issues and invited submissions from interested parties. The Commission also distributed a questionnaire and posted it on its website. During the fall of 2005, the Commission also held a series of roundtable discussions on specific issues of concern. In 2007, the Commission released a Consultation Report, The Cost of Caring, which reported on the feedback received from those who participated in the consultation as well as Policy and Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Family Status.
[7] See, for example, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Rental Market Report: Toronto CMA (October 2005) at 3, online: < (date accessed: October 26, 2006) which shows that 75 percent of new immigrant households rely, at least initially, on the rental market to meet their housing needs.
[8] Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H. 19.
[9] Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association and Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, Ontario Region, Where’s Home? A Picture of Housing Needs in Ontario (2005) at 1, online: <> (date accessed: September 1, 2006).

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