How about a topic like this one to start off the morning, eh?
While I’m opening myself up to criticism here, I think this is a topic that needs exploring.
Landlords want to be able to “pick” their tenants, and tenants want “fair” access to housing.
Somewhere in between there must be a happy medium, no?
I’m pretty sure I’ve written a blog like this before.
Let me search my archives…
Ah, right – “Define Discrimination,” a blog from July of 2013.
The comments are always interesting, because I believe it’s very difficult to provide an opinion that’s not somehow based on an individual’s own situation.
I don’t see a real estate investor who owns seven condos coming to the defence of tenants everywhere, and rallying against discrimination of every type.
And I also don’t see low-income earners who happen to wish rents were lower, arguing that capitalism and the free market should reign supreme.
Back in January, the CBC wrote a story called, “Couple In Early 20’s Denied Toronto Condo Rental Due To Their Age”
The problem I have with this article, is that the headline (and most of the content of the article) is misleading.
It surmises that the only reason, or at the very least – the main reason, why the landlord didn’t want to rent to these tenants, aged 22 and 23, was because of their age.
But later on in the story, we learn that it was going to be occupied by two more people.
A total of four people would be renting the condo.
Isn’t the landlord within his or her right to believe, in his opinion, that four people renting a 2-bedroom condo is not as ideal as two people renting a 2-bedroom condo?
A contrarian might argue, “Four people, with four incomes, should make the landlord feel safer, since there are more people to pay the rent.”
Right, that could be true. Or, the landlord could choose to rent to two people who have a higher income than all four, and/or who don’t “need” to share accommodations.
See what I did there – that last part? I judged.
I made an assumption, and I judged.
I surmised that two couples – four people, who want to rent a 2-bedroom condo, somehow “need” to do so, likely because of their financial situation.
I could be right. In fact, I probably am. It’s a high-percentage play here, and I don’t see any viable alternate explanations, other than, perhaps, they’re swingers.
But I don’t know I’m right – that’s my point.
I’m guessing, assuming, and as a result, judging.
And the point of today’s blog, as I become completely open and honest here, is that there’s a fine line between judgment, and discrimination.
Let me draw up a hypothetical situation for you, based on experiences with both my owner-landlords, and my tenant-clients.
There’s a condo for lease for $1,600 per month in CityPlace. It’s a 1-bed, 1-bath, 540 square feet, with a locker, and no parking space. It has a small balcony that faces west with a clear view.
It goes up for lease, and within 36 hours, there are four offers to lease the property.
How do you, the landlord, decide who to rent to?
It’s a trap.
Because it’s not possible to decide, without judging.
And judging, is extremely close, to discriminating.
We have four offers from the following:
Name: Alexander Walker
Nationality: Australian, on a work permit
Occupation: Freelance tattoo artist (9 years, since he lived back home in Sydney)
Salary: Makes upwards of $150/hour (2016 T1 General showed $71,520)
Credit: No credit score available
Last place of residence: Apartment in Parkdale, 2-bed, 1-bath, paying half of $2,000/month
Reason for relocation: “Need my own place”
Notes: Has been working and living in Canada for 3 years
Name: Jennifer Kim & Michael Kane
Age: 23 and 24
Nationality: Canadian (Both from Ottawa, new to Toronto)
Occupation: She’s doing her MBA at U of T, he’s working for General Mills (4 months in, past probationary period)
Salary: she makes $0, he makes $51,000
Credit score: 708 and 825
Last place of residence: Their parents’ houses in Ottawa
Reason for relocation: “Moving to Toronto for school/work”
Notes: They have a small dog named “Toto,” and they are offering $1,650/month for the condo as they really want it
Name: Tanya Ross
Occupation: Buyer for Aldo Shoes (4 years)
Credit score: 755
Last place of residence: 208 Queen’s Quay (1-bed, 1-bath, $1,550/month)
Reason for relocation: “Landlord selling the condo, need to vacate”
Notes: Parents are co-signing, providing 3 month’s rent up front.
Name: Anya Popov
Occupation: TD Canada Trust (eight years)
Credit score: 688
Last place of residence: Family home in Richmond Hill
Reason for relocation: “Moving downtown”
Notes: Providing 4 month’s rent up front, and needs to rent a parking space in the building for her 2016 Mercedes C300
So those are our four candidates, folks.
Who do you rent to?
How can you possibly decide without judging these people?
So let’s look at each of these candidates, perhaps as the landlords would, and with the help of Google and other social platforms, which just about every landlord, and listing agent, would do.
Candidate #1 is a 31-year-old Aussie, who does not have a full-time job, and no guarantee of income.
He’s a freelancer, and makes an excellent living. In fact, he makes the most money out of any of the four candidates, by a longshot.
His passport photo shows he has a massive skull tattoo on the front of his neck and throat.
He’s currently renting in Parkdale with a roommate, paying $1,000/month.
He has no credit score on file with Equifax, as he has only lived in Canada for three years.
We were not given a copy of his Canadian work permit by his agent.
He is one of those rare birds that does not have a Facebook account.
He is on LinkedIn, and has detailed every job he’s ever had since he was 14-years-old when he worked at a skateboard shop.
His GDS ratio is 26.8%.
Candidate(s) #2 are a young couple, just starting out.
She’s going to school, he has his first adult-job, paying $51,000 per year.
They previously lived with their parents, and this is the first time they’ll be living together full-time.
They have a dog, and the building is very pet-friendly.
His credit is fantastic – 825 is one of the best scores you’ll see in a given year.
Both of their Facebook profiles are public. She has an inordinate amount of duck-lipped selfie’s as her feature photos, and he has hundreds of photos dating all the way back to high school – every event from St. Paddy’s Day, to Frosh Week at Carleton, to a folder of photos just called “SIZZURP” which contains many photos of young-20’s debauchery.
They are both on LinkedIn, with several hundred connections each, and he has five really impressive reviews from co-workers at Kellog’s, where he interned before 4th year university.
They really want the condo, and are offering $1,650/month, instead of the $1,600/month list price.
Their GDS ratio is 38.8%
Candidate #3 is a young woman who is moving out of a condominium located a stone’s throw away, because her landlord is selling the condo.
She’s four years into an entry-level job, making $52,000 per year, but her parents are co-signing the lease.
Her credit score is a reasonable 755.
Her Facebook profile is allowing us to see four profile photos – one of she and her grandfather, one of she and her dog, one of her dog wearing a silly hat, and one of the book “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway.
Her LinkedIn profile has a dozen reviews from colleagues at Aldo, as well as from several summer jobs as a lifeguard at a pool and a waitress at a golf course.
She is providing 3 months’ rent up front.
Her GDS ratio is 36.9%.
Candidate #4 is a 32-year-old woman who has never lived on her own.
She currently resides with her parents.
She has worked a very stable job for eight years – the longest full-time employment of all the candidates.
Her credit score is not good – 688 is low, and results from her frequent credit card usage.
Her Instagram profile is littered with photos of her holding designer handbags, posing in front of Ferrari’s, and attending pool parties in South Beach.
She has a car, and this unit for lease does not come with parking, but she’s found a space for lease in the building for $175/month.
She also really wants the condo, and is offering $1,650/month in rent, plus four months’ rent up front.
Her GDS ratio is 37.4%.
Okay folks, I ask again: who do you rent to?
Two of the four candidates are offering ABOVE the list price.
If you’re looking for yield, you’ve found it!
But what else do you take into consideration? Their incomes, credit scores, and occupations? How does anybody in 2017 not delve further into their personal lives.
The first candidate has a skull tattoo on his neck. Does that bother you?
The second candidates seem like they love to party. Does that bother you? Are they “immature” or are they exactly where most 22-year-olds are?
The third candidate seems like the sweetest girl in the world – she reads Hemingway, and has no ducked-lip selfie’s on her Facebook profile – just a shot of her and Grand-dad! Awww!
The fourth candidate clearly has a wealthy family, and is putting a ton of money up front!
How in the world are we NOT judging these people?
It’s impossible to do.
You have four candidates, and with that comes employment letters, rental applications and personal details, and your nimble-fingers – which can check out Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and perform a Google search for both news and images.
Do we even know what “discrimination” is anymore?
Is it discrimination to not want to rent to a foreign citizen on a work permit, with no full-time job, who shares a 2-bedroom apartment in Parkdale, and has no credit score?
Or is that okay, but, it’s discrimination to not want to rent to him because of his neck tattoo?
What is discrimination?
The bottom line, folks, is that just about everything can be claimed as discrimination in today’s society.
It comes down to who wants to fight it, for how long, and why.
Even when it comes to something as basic as income, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has published content suggesting that “minimum incomes” or percentages should not apply.
Have a look at this: OHRC: Minimum Income Criteria
Not renting to two young 20-somethings because you looked them up on Facebook and determined that they party a lot is discrimination, no doubt about it. It’s age discrimination, which is one of the criteria laid out in the Human Rights Code.
Take a look:
People cannot be refused an apartment, bothered by a landlord or other tenants, or otherwise treated unfairly because of their:
- 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
- sexual orientation
- age, including people who are 16 or 17 years old and no longer living with their parents
- receipt of public assistance.
People are also protected if they face discrimination because of being a friend or relative of someone identified above.
If you’re a tenant, then be aware of your rights, but be realistic in this market, or you’ll be habitually disappointed.
If you’re a landlord, be very careful of how you proceed, because the example I gave you above is very common, and it’s nearly impossible to “pick” a candidate without demonstrating some form of discrimination, under the Human Rights Code, and according to literature and opinions on the OHRC website.
And don’t shoot the messenger either.
Because if you don’t think that a landlord in Toronto today, especially after the Liberal government implemented the Ontario Fair Housing Plan, isn’t going to be more vigilant and diligent than ever before, then dare I say, you’re being naive.
If you’ve had problems finding rental housing, I encourage you to share your stories below.