Renting out a secondary suite in your home is a great way to help pay your housing expenses if you have more room in the house than you need. But many small landlords don’t realize they are running discriminatory housing advertisements for their units.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission recently studied 28 websites that offer renting property ads and found that up to 20 per cent of the ads were discriminatory.
“Housing is a human right and by spreading the message that discriminatory housing ads are illegal, we can advance human rights for tenants everywhere,” says Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
The commission is reaching out to advertising websites and print media to try and educate the public about discriminatory ads. Some of these sites direct landlords to other sites that outline do’s and don’ts of advertising, but the commission says many of these links are U.S.-based. “Most of these statements refer to U.S. Fair Housing legislation, while protections in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada are broader,” says the commission. “Sending Canadian site users to these U.S.-based links will give them a false impression of their actual rights and responsibilities.”
In Ontario, you can’t refuse a tenant because of their age, race, colour, ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation, marital status (including common-law or same-sex couples), religion, citizenship or where they are from. You can’t refuse them because you know they are receiving public assistance such as welfare or employment insurance. In some provinces, there are also protections for political beliefs and for those with a criminal record. The only time these rules may not apply is if the tenant is sharing a kitchen or bathroom with the landlord or the landlord’s family.
Some examples of renting property ads that may seem okay but that openly discriminate says things like, “Adult building” or “Not suitable for children” or “Seeking mature couple”.
More obvious discriminatory ads may say, “Must have working income” or “Must provide proof of employment.” You can’t say your unit would be ideal for a quiet couple because it implies you don’t want singles. You can’t say it would be “perfect for a female student” or “suitable for a single professional” or “great for working folks or students.” All of these ads may discourage people from applying and are not allowed.
Rather than trying to name the “ideal” person for the unit, have the ads focus on the unit itself, describing the location, size, rent, local amenities and other information about the unit.
You can’t say “no pets” because people with disabilities who use service animals like guide dogs cannot be denied access to housing based on a “no pet” policy.
“Not soundproof” would be considered a statement that discriminates against families with children, says the commission.
Unless you are providing subsidized housing, it is also illegal to apply a rent-to-income ratio (such as a 30 per cent cut-off rule) to your tenants.
The commission says that “residents don’t have to be working to have money to pay the rent. Research shows that people living on social assistance, pensions or retirement income are just as likely to pay their rent as people who are working.”
So how can you protect yourself as a landlord when renting property?
You are allowed to ask for information about the tenant’s rental history, ask for credit references and perform credit checks. You can ask for income information, but the commission says you can only use this to confirm that the person has enough money to cover the rent.
You can also ask that a guarantor signs the lease, but only if you have the same requirement for all of your tenants. If you ask some prospective tenants for this, but not all of them, you are discriminating. If you are looking for renting in Mississauga, I can help.
The commission says that some of the best prospective tenants may not have a rental or credit history because they are young people, women returning to the workforce after long periods of care-giving or the end of a marriage, or newcomers to the country.
Some advertising sites offer suggestions for non-discriminatory language in ads and the commission is hoping that all sites will follow. It also is asking sites to review ads before posting them or to have some systems in place where a monitor can look at an ad and remove it if someone complains that itís discriminatory. It is also asking print media to keep an eye for these ads. More information is available at Ontario Human Rights Commission website.
Written by Jim Adair
Realty Times June 21, 2011