Discrimination against tenants hard to combat in Ontario, lawyers say


Published May 3, 2024 at 4:17 pm

Ontario Rental Discrimination 2024

Apartment listings saying that people of certain races, ethnicities, religions, or genders need not apply might not pass the legal sniff test, but that doesn’t stop landlords from asking for a certain type of tenant and rejecting other applicants.

Renting a home in Ontario has been the subject of much anxiety over the last few years, as availability remains scarce and costs remain high. In response to a pressurized market, some property licensees are incredibly selective about who will rent all or part of their property. In light of these developing trends, one vital question remains: To what extent can landlords discriminate when advertising rentals in Ontario? 

According to The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), the answer is a firm ‘zero,’ as it dictates that no landlord can discriminate based on race, religion, marital status or gender. However, even with this moral and regulatory compass, many in the province continue advertising certain renter specifications.

For Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet — an authority on human rights law in the GTA — this practice rides a fine legal line, as these bulletins occur outside of ink-on-paper contracts. This makes any legal repercussions a hard sell, as a case outside of the purview of a rental agreement may not be worth the dollars spent. 

“It’s only — at that point — about hurt feelings, and hurt feelings aren’t worth a whole lot of money in Ontario. As a result, most people aren’t hiring a lawyer because it’s just not economically viable,” De Bousquet told insauga.com. 

These potentially discriminatory advertisements are often posted on non-regulated platforms like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace. According to De Bousquet, if a legal case were to occur related to discrimination in an ad, such as on the basis of sex, the accused would likely only see a slap on the wrist. 

“The problem is that the punishment is so small, so there is no real incentive for [landlords] to comply at any point,” says De Bousquet. 

Real estate lawyer Manjot Heer feels this apathy impacts renters’ confidence in self-advocacy. He fears many, especially those new to the country, will continue to assume that it’s all part of the process. 

“I feel that tenants do not seek assistance for mistreatment during the onboarding process and I think the reason is that they have become too accustomed to discriminatory ads. This is especially so in the Peel Region (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), where an influx of people have emigrated in the past decade,” Heer told insauga.com.

Heer also suggests that these ads function as a lure to entice any serious applicants directly inquiring about the rental. Additional variables may include a non-listed price, which is not illegal but doubles down on the need for direct contact with a discriminating party. 

“I feel that that is done to gauge interest. In that situation, a landlord is trying to — discreetly — have conversations about terms and conditions that would be otherwise discriminatory or unreasonable,” says Heer. 

However, some exceptions exist as Heer points out that single-gender rooming houses for students often get a pass legally and morally, as they bolster an organic need for specific renters. Even with the odd outlier, Heer remains apprehensive about any future where discrimination remains commonplace. 

“I think in this environment, with how competitive it is, tenants will ultimately get the short end of the stick. This is going to allow these landlords to continue to tread on them well into the foreseeable future,” says Heer. 

As for maneuvering potentially discriminatory rental ads in Ontario, Heer provided crucial advice by stating,

“Look at the ad carefully and see how it is worded. You want to look at it and determine one thing. Mainly, is this ad focused on the unit itself or the tenant? Because if it’s the latter, there is a presumption that there is discrimination at play.”  

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