III. Discrimination in rental housing

The Code contains provisions to help ensure that everyone has the equal opportunity to access housing, and the benefits that go along with it, without discrimination based on race, colour, ancestry, creed (religion), place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability and receipt of public assistance. It also prohibits harassing behaviour in housing on the basis of these grounds.

Issues of discrimination in rental housing often arise because of a combination of human rights grounds. For example, a young lone mother on social assistance who is looking for rental housing might potentially experience discrimination on the basis of her gender, age, family status and receipt of public assistance. If she is a racialized person or has a disability, her experience of discrimination may change or be compounded.

Discrimination based on one or more grounds that intersect to produce unique experiences of discrimination has been identified by the Commission as an important consideration in all aspects of its work.

What are the ways in which people experience discrimination in rental housing on the basis of each ground of the Code? How does the intersection of Code grounds impact on discrimination in rental housing?

(a) Securing Rental Housing

There are several general ways in which people experience discrimination in rental housing.[2] One of the first and most obvious ones is when securing housing. For example, people may be screened out or turned away because of their race, colour and ancestry, age, size of their family, sexual orientation or perhaps most commonly because they earn low wages or are in receipt of public assistance.

There may be barriers that result from seemingly neutral policies or practices but that nevertheless prevent people from accessing rental housing. One example would be a “no pets” policy being used to prevent a person with a disability who uses a service animal from renting a unit in the building.

A question that often comes up in the housing context relates to what is and is not allowed when considering a prospective tenant. Landlords have a legitimate need to assess prospective tenants but must do so in a manner that is consistent with the Code. Human rights decisions have provided some guidance so far. For example, it is now clear that rent-to-income ratios (i.e. a standard guideline that a tenant applicant should be spending no more than 25-35 percent of his or her income on rent) discriminate on the basis of a number of Code grounds and will almost certainly be found contrary to the Code.

It is clear that the public would benefit from clarification in other areas. How should O.Reg 290/98[3], the Regulation under the Code that sets out business practices permissible to landlords in selecting prospective tenants, be interpreted? When can a landlord ask for a guarantor? Is a person’s immigration status ever relevant in assessing his or her tenancy application? Can special rules be applied to students? The Commission is seeking input on these issues.

What barriers do people face in securing rental housing? What discriminatory practices should the Commission be aware of? What can be done to proactively prevent these barriers and practices?

What are the legitimate considerations in assessing prospective tenants? Why are these reasonable and legitimate business practices? What considerations cannot be justified under the Code?

Bearing in mind the Commission’s role in promoting a progressive interpretation of the Code, what policy position should the Commission take with regard to O.Reg 290/98*** and other practices that are commonly used to select tenants?

(b) Failure to Design Inclusively and Accommodate Needs

Once they have secured housing, people may face barriers because of a failure to design inclusively or accommodate Code related needs. Perhaps the landlord has a policy in place that prevents modifications to a unit that are necessary for an older tenant who is developing a disability. There may be a shortage of accessible parking spots. Children may be excluded from recreational facilities. Rules with respect to transferring to larger or smaller units may be a barrier for different types of families. Landlords have a duty to design inclusively and accommodate Code-related needs.

What types of inclusive design and accommodation of Code-related needs are necessary to allow all tenants to access rental housing on an equal basis?

What are some of the challenges in designing inclusively and accommodating all tenants and potential tenants?

(c) Different Treatment in the Occupancy of Rental Housing

Individuals and families may experience different treatment once they have secured rental housing. People may experience harassment by a landlord or superintendent based on Code grounds. Problems experienced with co-tenants may not be addressed on an equal basis. Or people may find that how they are treated with regard to repairs or complaints concerning noise is influenced by their sex, race, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, place of origin etc. In the most extreme circumstances discrimination and harassment can lead to the loss of housing.

In what ways do individuals and families experience harassment and discrimination with regard to the occupancy of rental housing on the basis of Code grounds?

[2] For a very detailed discussion of the many specific areas of discrimination in rental housing, please see the Background Paper.
[3] For complete text of the Regulation, please see http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/DBLaws/Regs/English/980290_e.htm.

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