The Alberta Human Rights Act aims to protect Albertans from being discriminated against in different areas based on their specific characteristics (a.k.a. protected grounds). One area included in the scope of the Act is tenancy. When renting in Alberta, everyone has the right to discrimination-free treatment. No one must be discriminated against regardless of:
- religious beliefs
- gender identity
- gender expression
- mental disability
- physical disability
- source of income
- marital status
- family status
- sexual orientation.
One experiences discrimination when they are treated differently or unjustly based on protected grounds stated in the Act.
Discrimination often includes limiting a person’s access to opportunity and impairing one’s fundamental freedoms and human rights.
Examples of discriminatory behavior
Landlords and rental agents must be careful in how they treat potential tenants.
Discrimination may happen anytime in the rental process. It can be during the marketing of rental units and screening of applicants. It can be present in a landlord’s treatment of tenants during their stay.
Here are a few examples of discrimination in the rental housing industry:
• A rental property advertised as an “adult-only” property discriminates against families with young children.
• The landlord instructs rental agents to deny the rental applications of people of color.
• Asking an immigrant who is a newcomer in Canada to provide Canadian references or guarantors. This is discriminatory because newcomers have limited acquaintances in the country.
• A rental agent requires a tenant with mental illness to provide assurance that they will seek medical treatment and take medication before their rental application would be approved.
• A landlord shows hostility towards a tenant after discovering that the latter is a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
Resolving a Discrimination Complaint
When a tenant has enough reason to believe that they were discriminated against, they can file a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. They should do so within a year after the alleged discrimination occurred.
Resolving Discrimination Issues Internally
Dealing with discrimination complaints could be tedious for both the accused and the victim. There can be a lot of paperwork involved, hearings, investigations, acquiring evidence, etc.
Discriminated tenants who believe that their landlord violated their rights may first try to resolve the issue themselves. Then, they would only send a complaint to the Commission if that approach does not work.
In some cases, the landlord is unaware that they committed an act that their tenant finds discriminatory. In such cases, it can be advantageous to all parties involved if they try to resolve the issue themselves first.
• Tips for tenants in resolving disputes
Before communicating with the landlord, it would be helpful for the tenant to acknowledge that the landlord may not have intentionally or consciously discriminated against them to give them the benefit of the doubt.
A good approach is to put the issue in writing and address it to the landlord. Writing a letter would organize your thoughts better and explain your side accurately. Include the details of what behavior or action made you feel discriminated, when it happened, how it made you feel, and what you want to happen or do to resolve the issue.
Keep your language and tone non-accusatory. Make your landlord feel that you are willing to resolve the issue together.
• Tips for landlords or rental agents in resolving disputes when confronted by a tenant
As a landlord or rental agent, when you receive a letter of complaint from a tenant because of an alleged discriminatory act or behavior, consider it a favor. The tenant likely considered reporting it to the Commission, but instead decided to try resolving it with you first. It is an opportunity to avoid further legal action that could destroy your business.
Upon receiving a complaint, you must get more details from the tenant to further understand the situation. Knowing the full picture would help you come up with the best solution.
Be respectful when discussing the concern with your tenant. If you were unaware that you have discriminated against them, explain your side calmly and express your sincere apology. Offer any means to make up for the mistake and promise not to commit it again. Settling such conflicts through open communication and willingness to correct mistakes would build a healthier environment in the rental home.
There should be zero tolerance for discrimination in a rental home, even with how you market your properties. When you publish your listing on Padleads, review it carefully and check for details that may come off as discriminatory. You would be more confident to syndicate that listing to popular websites, knowing that it would attract and not offend.