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4. Sexual harassment in housing

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Section 7(1) of the Code states that every person who occupies housing has a right to freedom from sexual harassment by their landlord, an agent of their landlord, or someone who lives in the same building.

Section 7(3)(a) of the Code also specifically prohibits sexual solicitation of a tenant by a person in a position to “confer, grant or deny a benefit” where the person making the solicitation “knows or ought reasonably to know that it is unwelcome.” In private rental housing, the person in a position to confer or deny a benefit would most likely be a landlord, superintendent, building manager, etc. of a residential dwelling. In the case of social or co-op housing, it might be a service manager, board member, etc.

A housing provider has access to highly personal information about tenants, often including information about their relationship status, financial situation, occupation, work address, etc. Housing providers who live on-site are also in a position to monitor the comings and goings of a tenant. As a result, female tenants “lack privacy and personal space.”[120] Further, it is typical for housing providers to hold a key to a tenant’s apartment. This means they could potentially enter a person’s home at any time of the day or night. For all of these reasons, a person who is being sexually harassed in or around their home may feel profoundly vulnerable.

Sexual harassment in housing may include any of the behaviours set out in the section entitled “Defining sexual harassment.” It may also include uninvited visits to a person’s unit (either when they are home or not home), refusals to make needed repairs and/or do maintenance, threats to cut services, and threats of eviction.

Sexual harassment may be subtle. For example, depending on the context, it may include unwanted prying into a tenant’s personal life.

Example: A single woman lives in a co-op. Other co-op members ask her intrusive questions about her single status such as: “Are you seeing anyone?” and “When are you going to settle down and have kids?” When she expresses her discomfort with these questions, she’s told to “lighten up.”

While some men (especially men who identify or are perceived as gay, bisexual or transgender) do experience sexual harassment in rental housing, women are most often affected. The typical power imbalance that exists between landlords and tenants is often heightened by gender inequalities. In one case, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario commented on this power imbalance:

A superintendent is in a position of power over tenants. They can make the living situation of a tenant uncomfortable or unbearable. An abuse of this power can have a significant effect on a tenant's enjoyment of her living space. When the superintendent is an older male inappropriately exerting power over a younger female in the form of sexual harassment, this undermines her expectation of peaceful occupation of her home.[121]

A lack of affordable housing options makes women with low social and economic status particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment by housing providers. In a housing consultation in 2007, the OHRC heard that women who depend on rent supplement programs and who live in private housing are especially vulnerable to threats and sexual harassment from their neighbours or housing providers.[122] Some housing providers may sexually harass low-income female tenants by seeking sexual favours instead of rent if they have fallen into arrears, to prevent eviction or if they need maintenance services.

Example: A tribunal found that a landlord engaged in sexual harassment, sexual solicitation and reprisal contrary to the Code when he evicted a young, lone mother for rejecting his sexual advances.[123]

Often, sexual harassment in housing will take place based on more than one Code ground. Young women, women from racialized groups, women with disabilities, women receiving social assistance, lone mothers and lesbians may be targeted for sexual harassment.

Example: A property manager and property management company were found liable for the sexual harassment of a young female tenant due to the manager’s inappropriate behaviour toward her. As well as making unwanted sexual comments, he tried to impose a friendly relationship on her, and his “open door” policy included leaving his door open into a common hallway while he was having sex.[124]

Women may be reluctant to report sexual harassment occurring in their home for fear of retaliation, loss of shelter, and/or concerns about the safety of themselves and their families.[125]

Women who reject the sexual advances of their housing provider may be subjected to surveillance and other forms of harassment by the housing provider if they are involved or become involved with another man.

Example: When a woman who lived in a housing complex rejected her landlord’s repeated requests for dates,[126] she was given written warnings about her use of a parking spot when a male friend stayed overnight. Many other residents in the complex also used the same parking spot for their overnight guests without repercussions.

See the section entitled “Preventing and responding to sexual harassment” for the responsibilities of housing providers in this regard.

[120] Griff Tester, “An Intersectional Analysis of Sexual Harassment in Housing,” Gender & Society,
Vol. 22 No. 3, June 2008 at 362.

[121] See Kertesz v. Bellair Property Management 2007 HRTO 38 at 57, and Reed v. Cattolica
Investments Ltd.
 (1996), supra, note 11.

[122] In 2007, the OHRC held a province-wide public consultation on discrimination issues in housing. In July 2008, the OHRC released a consultation report entitled Right at Home: Report on the Consultation on Human Rights and Rental Housing in Ontario. This document reported what the OHRC heard and included recommendations to responsible parties for addressing discrimination in rental housing.

[123] Hill-LeClair v. Booth, 2009 HRTO 1629 (reconsideration request denied in 2009 HRTO 2065)

[124] Kertesz, supra, note 121.

[125] Griff Tester, “An Intersectional Analysis of Sexual Harassment in Housing,” supra, note 120 at 350.

[126] In Radloff v. Stox Broadcast Corp. (1999), 36 C.H.R.R. D/116 (B.C. Hum. Rts. Trib.), a B.C. human rights tribunal found that persistent sexual advances after being told “no” is sexual harassment.


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