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A landlord won't rent to me and I think it's because of discrimination. What can I do?
Clear language definitions to common legal terms.
In Ontario, it is against the law for a landlord to refuse to rent to you because of your:
- race, colour, or ethnic background
- birthplace or citizenship
- age (if you are at least 18, or if you are 16 or 17 and not living with a parent)
- sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression
- marital status
or because you:
- are pregnant
- have children
- are on social assistance (welfare)
Sometimes discrimination is indirect and less obvious. The landlord might not even realize that what they are doing is wrong.
And some practices are considered discrimination because of how they affect different groups of people differently. This is called indirect discrimination. Here are some examples:
- A building has no ramp at the main entrance – this can discriminate against people who use wheelchairs.
- A landlord threatens to evict tenants because of noise complaints – this can discriminate against people with children.
- A landlord won't rent to people with no credit rating – this can discriminate against tenants who are young or new to Canada.
Even if they don't mean to discriminate, landlords who will not change things like these could be breaking the law.
Find out if your situation is covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code
The Human Rights Code bans discrimination in most rental situations. But there are some exceptions.
The landlord can refuse to rent to you for any reason if:
- you would be living in the same building as your landlord or their family, and
- you would be sharing a bathroom or kitchen with them
There are other types of rental housing that are not covered by some of the rules in the Code. These include:
- Seniors' homes: tenants can be chosen by age
- Single-sex residences: tenants can be chosen by sex
- Subsidized housing: tenants can be chosen by their income
Even if a building is exempt from one rule, the landlord must still follow the Ontario Human Rights Code in all the other areas.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre has an online tool to help you figure out if what happened to you is considered discrimination under the Human Rights Code. For more information and advice, you can also speak to staff at the Support Centre.
If the Human Rights Code does not apply, check other topics and questions on this website. There might be a solution to your problem using your other rights as a tenant.
Learn how to tell if you are being discriminated against when choosing where to rent
Some discrimination can be very obvious. This is sometimes called direct discrimination. For example, a landlord says they won’t rent to you because of your colour or religion.
It can be hard to prove discrimination because often the landlord will not say the real reason that they won't rent to you. You might be able to find out if the landlord has a pattern of not renting to certain groups. Or, if they tell you the place is already taken, you could try having a friend ask about it, or see if it is still being advertised.
A landlord must not advertise a unit in a way that discriminates. For example, they must not say that:
- the building is adults-only (unless it is a seniors residence)
- you must have a job to rent there
- the place is "suitable for young professionals"
Some practices are considered discrimination because of how they affect different groups of people differently. The law says that landlords must try to meet tenants' needs in order to avoid this kind of discrimination, even if it is unintentional.
For example, here are some reasons a landlord might give for not renting to you, and possible steps they could take instead:
You use a wheelchair and the unit or building isn't accessible
The landlord could install a ramp or make changes to the unit
You have a service animal but the landlord won't rent to people with animals
The landlord could make exceptions for people who need a service animal because of a disability
You have children and the landlord thinks other tenants might complain about noise
The landlord could put in better soundproofing, and also tell complaining tenants that they cannot expect children to always be quiet
You have no credit history because you are young or because you are a newcomer to Canada
The landlord could look at other information to help decide if you would be a reliable tenant
But landlords don't have to do things that they can prove will cause them undue hardship. The only things that can be considered undue hardship to a landlord are:
- costs that the landlord's business cannot afford, taking into account any outside sources of funding, or
- health and safety problems so serious that they outweigh the benefit of having more accessible housing
Try to get the landlord to follow the Human Rights Code
In some situations you may be able to convince the landlord to follow the Human Rights Code. You can try to explain the law to them. Or you can get someone else to help you deal with them.
If you still want to rent the place, you should take action quickly, preferably before they rent it to someone else.
Try showing the landlord information about the Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has information written for landlords. The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) has many publications that explain the law about different types of discrimination in housing.
It might help to get someone to talk to the landlord on your behalf. Contact CERA or the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC).
Keep copies of your rental application and any communication you have with the landlord. Make notes about your conversations with the landlord and anything else that happens. Ask a friend or someone else to go with you when you meet or speak with the landlord. That person can be a witness to what happened or what was said.
Apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
If you think a landlord has violated your human rights by refusing to rent to you, you can apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
You must apply within one year. If you need help with the application, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre can help you understand the process.
The Tribunal is like a court, but less formal. First it will try to get both sides to make an agreement about how to settle the case. If there is no agreement, the Tribunal will hold a hearing to decide the case. At the hearing, a Tribunal member will listen to evidence and legal arguments from both sides.
After holding a hearing, the Tribunal can make different kinds of orders. For example, it could order the landlord to rent to you. Or it could order the landlord to change their policies about tenant selection, or take an educational course about discrimination.
The Tribunal could order the landlord to pay you money to compensate you for not respecting your human rights.