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Male hand with rainbow colours and heart drawn on palm- The Human Rights Act and your Rental Property Business

The Human Rights Act – and Your Rental Property

25- year old Jamaican-Canadian Chayron Rennie took his landlord to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) for discrimination charges –  and won. He was awarded Awarded $4,927 in compensation for ‘injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.’ (Source: Chhabra, Sameer, “This Windsor man took a rental discrimination case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and won.” CBC, 2020)

It wasn’t the first time Chayron Rennie was discriminated against during his search for a rental property; he decided to prove it and succeeded.

Tenancy is one of the protected areas under the  Human Rights Act, and if the tenant can prove the landlord has discriminated against them under one of the protected grounds, they can sue.

Protected areas and grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act

Protected areas under the Alberta Human Rights Act include employment, tenancy, goods and services, publications and notices, and membership in trade unions. 

Grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act include race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, marital status, family status, source of income, sexual orientation.

The Alberta Human Rights Act “prohibits discrimination in the area of residential and commercial tenancy.” (Source: Albertahumanrights.ab.ca, 2018). As a landlord, it is in your best interests to learn and understand the areas, grounds, and types of discrimination.

Categories of discrimination

The Human Rights Act identifies four distinct categories of discrimination;

  • Prima Facie discrimination–  “at first sight” or “at first look” is not obvious discrimination and is defined as something that has been proved or assumed true unless there is evidence to the contrary.

For example, your condo has a noise bylaw that enforces quiet after 11:00 p.m.  Your board fines both the tenants who had a loud party and a couple with a colicky baby who cries all night.  Fining the couple with the baby is negative or differential treatment based on protected human rights grounds, which results in the couple receiving differential treatment.

  • Direct discrimination happens when a landlord creates a rule that discriminates against individuals protected by a specific ground. This was the case with Chayron Rennie, who proved that he was denied tenancy because he is black.
  • Indirect discrimination occurs when a landlord has rules which make them appear neutral, but the rules have a discriminatory effect on certain groups protected under human rights grounds. For example, a landlord makes it a policy to only do bi-yearly property maintenance inspections on Saturdays because he doesn’t want to interfere with work schedules or their day of rest (Sundays). Still, he has tenants who work weekends and take Saturday as their day of rest.
  • Systemic discrimination is a pattern of behaviours, policies, or practices that are a part of the organization’s structure and create or perpetuate discrimination for certain types of people protected under human rights grounds. For example, a property management company promotes equal pay for equal work. However, statistics prove that the women within the organization receive 20% less than their male colleagues in similar roles with similar qualifications.

Be very careful that your language does not exclude anyone. The language used in online ads for your rental property or during showings that excludes any protected grounds can be viewed as discriminatory. For example, if you say, “singles only”  you exclude anyone who is not single, such as families or married couples.

To appear fair during the application process, it’s important to have an application form that asks for various criteria. For example, an application form that only uses a credit check to determine whether the tenant is accepted could be viewed as discriminatory. Yet, an application form that asks for work and landlord references, employment history, credit checks, and level of income, demonstrates that acceptance is based on multiple criteria. 

Suppose a landlord has multiple applicants for one property and wants to avoid the appearance of discrimination. In that case, the rental property should be offered to the first person who qualifies according to reasonable criteria.

Age discrimination

Age falls under the protected grounds. Denying tenancy to people with children is illegal.  Also, a landlord cannot refuse tenancy based on age, to a 16-year-old, who wants to live independently.

The only age discrimination allowed is for seniors’ housing, which permits Albertans the right to live together in a community of people of a similar age. The cut-off for seniors-only housing is 55, but communities can set age restrictions for over 55 also.

The government offers a little slack for condominiums, cooperatives, and mobile home sites seen as “adult-only.” They have until January 1, 2033, to convert to either all-ages housing or seniors-only housing.

Duty to Accommodate

Under the Alberta  Human Rights Act, landlords have a duty to accommodate providing the need relates to one or more of the protected grounds, and providing the request is reasonable.

For example, Jane owns a rental condominium. She advertises and Nathan, who is visually impaired, applies. Nathan wants a copy of the rental application that he can listen to. Jane records the application form and sends him a link. Jane has made reasonable adjustments to accommodate Nathan’s disability.

For example, Phil has lived on the fourth floor of your walk-up apartment for 10 years. Over the last two years, Phil’s painful hip is getting worse and he’s having issues with the stairs. He requests that you install an elevator. You investigate and realize that installing an elevator would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and significant disruption to the tenants.  You tell Phil you are sorry, but you are unable to accommodate his request. Phil’s request in this example is not reasonable. You counter by recommending that Phil move to an apartment on the ground level when it becomes available, and offering to hire a contractor to build a ramp for the main entrance.

All businesses must abide by rules and laws, landlording is no exception. It is the responsibility of the landlord to know the Alberta Human Rights Act and to ensure it is followed. Not knowing the law could make you a victim of the law, and the cost can be significant.

Do you have a good human rights story to share? Email me I’d love to hear your answer nelda@neldaschulte.com

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