There are a lot of times when discrimination happens in the rental housing industry in Alberta, Canada. There are several cases where tenants were discriminated against by their landlords during their tenancy.
However, discrimination does not only occur during a tenant’s stay in a property. There have been many instances where discrimination happens to potential tenants while applying for a tenancy. Some of them experience discrimination from rental agents during the screening process.
Under the Alberta Human Rights Act, every Albertan has the right to be treated fairly regardless of their race, religious beliefs, gender, gender identity, gender expression, color, mental disability, physical disability, age, origin, ancestry, source of income, marital status, family status, or sexual orientation. This protection covers one’s right to discrimination-free treatment when applying for a residential lease.
As a rental agent, you must be cautious about treating potential tenants so that they won’t feel any discrimination. Sometimes, it can be challenging because you may be unaware that what you are doing or saying already comes off as discriminatory.
The type of information you gather from potential tenants is one thing you need to consider cautiously.
When tenants go through a screening process, rental agents usually ask them for information such as references and rental history. Although often permitted, human rights tribunals and courts in Canada found that refusing to rent to tenants based on personal characteristics gathered from the screening could be considered discrimination.
A tenant’s income source should not be the basis for rejecting his rental application. However, rental agents can ask about the AMOUNT of income they make. An example of this is if the tenant’s source of income is rental subsidies, income supports, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), or other benefits. If they qualify for the rental property, the income source should never be a basis for rejecting their application.
Rental agents may ask about a tenant’s rental history but should never reject an application because there is none. One example is immigrants who just arrived in Canada. They most likely do not have a rental history in the country.
One known formula used by landlords and rental agents is rent-to-income ratios. It helps them determine if a tenant can afford to pay the rent. Using this formula, landlords refuse to rent to tenants who would need to spend a certain percentage (usually 20-35%) of their income on rent. Courts in Canada found that this unfairly disqualifies individuals based on gender, race, marital status, family status, income source, and place of origin. The court finds the rent-to-income ratio to be an unreliable predictor of a person’s likelihood to default on rental payments.
Credit Checks and References
Asking for credit history and past landlord references is acceptable. However, it is not allowed to use such information to discriminate. A landlord or rental agent should not ask for credit information only from people of a particular race but not ask other applicants.
As to references, it is similar to the reason stated in rental history where immigrants do not have Canadian landlord references yet. You can’t deny them housing even if they are qualified just because they do not have previous landlords from Canada.
Rental must avoid asking questions about a rental applicant’s overly personal questions based on their characteristics. This is where unintentional discrimination happens. Seemingly innocent questions (despite the absence of malice) may come off as discriminatory. For example:
• Where were you from originally?
• Do you have children? Are you planning to have one in the future?
• Are you married? Single? Divorced?
• Do you go to church?
If a tenant believes that you have discriminated against them, they could file a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, and it could go through a stressful investigation process. You would not want to be in that situation.
When you publish a rental listing on Padleads and syndicate it to other websites, you can expect a lot of applicants. Be sure to treat them all fairly. Being sensitive and respectful are traits that a great rental agent should have.