Why didn't they rent to me? Is that even legal?

You are ready to rent an apartment. You find the perfect place and put in your application. You’ve got a great income, a stellar credit rating and several solid references. It sounds like you can’t be refused. You start prepping for the move, waiting for a confirmation call, assuming it’s just a formality.

But when you finally call to see why you haven’t heard back, you find out you’ve been declined.

The place isn’t yours.

You’re stunned.

What you can do is ask for a reason, though most provinces don’t have any legislation obligating the landlord to provide a reason for declining your application. If you feel you’re being discriminated against, you can always contact the Human Rights Commission or Human Rights Tribunal* for your province or territory. In fact, if you’ve experienced any form of discrimination you really should report it so that it can be stopped.

The Human Rights Code says:

You cannot be refused an apartment, harassed by a housing provider or other tenants, or otherwise treated unfairly because of your:

  • race, colour or ethnic background
  • religious beliefs or practices
  • ancestry, including people of Aboriginal descent
  • place of origin
  • citizenship, including refugee status
  • sex (including pregnancy and gender identity)
  • family status
  • marital status, including people with a same-sex partner
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • age, including people who are 16 or 17 years old and no longer living with their parents
  • receipt of public assistance.
  • You are also protected if you face discrimination because you are a friend or relative of someone identified above.

Most landlords won’t come right out and say it, but some will. One Toronto Renter, Luiza, came from Brazil to study at York University. They selected the “Little Portugal” area of Toronto. The cultural and language familiarity plus central location and accessibility to both her school and his office made it a good choice. Both she and her husband were fluent English speakers and he had a good job. The landlord specifically told her he didn’t want to rent to them because he preferred Canadians, that he felt he could trust Canadians more than foreigners.

This is blatant discrimination.

A landlord can’t ask questions about your ethnic, religious or cultural background, let alone refuse to rent to you because of them.

Landlords are allowed to ask about income – but the source shouldn’t be an issue. You can’t be discriminated against because you’re a retiree living on a pension, aN employed person with a salary, an independently wealthy person living off of a big bank account, a student with a parent paying the rent or a person with disabilities who receives assistance. You can be asked for a cosigner and you can be asked for income verification – from stubs to letters from an employer – but you can’t be declined based on source.

Sometimes you’re just declined because there is a better applicant. It’s bound to happen – with only one apartment for all of the people looking to apply, it’s just the numbers. Joe, from Toronto, and his girlfriend decided to move in together last summer. They thought they’d have no issues with good jobs, slightly above average credit and a total combined six-figure income. They were passed over again and again. Once, Joe explains, it was because a competing applicant offered the landlord three months of rent in advance, and another time because, although their credit was good, another applicant’s was better. Joe notes that they started off searching on their own, but eventually hired an agent to help them. Ultimately, they became quite desperate for a place to live and took something that wasn’t exactly what they wanted.

While the rules are quite clear, it’s just a matter of having a very tight vacancy rate and not enough rental units to satisfy demand. To compound the issue, there are a lot of investor-owned rentals, such as basements, condos and private homes, and they’re not always being professionally managed. While many private investor-owners are wonderful, well-intentioned people, many aren’t aware of all the rules, or don’t feel the rules apply to them. There is no regulation in the rental industry and compliance relies on landlords becoming informed and following the rules. Nikki, also from Toronto, found a great apartment, her joint application with her roommate was approved, but her landlord panicked and declined to rent to her and her roommate when they asked if they could both be on the lease – which would actually have been to the landlord’s advantage. The landlord did tell her that it was the first time he ever rented his condo out and she believes he was ill-informed.

From being refused because on social assistance, to being told they don’t want kids, landlords will often give away discriminatory reasons for not renting – but it’s up to renters to report the problems or they won’t get addressed. On the other hand you may want to think that if the landlord is so ill-informed on this point that it’s just foretelling how other issues will eventually arise., good landlords end up with great tenants who help source great tenants by word of mouth.

*Human Rights Commission/Human Rights Tribunal by province and territory:

Alberta
BC
Manitoba
New Brunswick
Newfoundland
Nova Scotia
Ontario
PEI
Quebec
Saskatchewan
NWT
Yukon
Nunavut

Canadian Human Rights Commission

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