Discrimination In The Rental Market?

Last week’s story about “blatant discrimination” in the rental market is the second report in as many months to surface in the Toronto media, thanks to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

But I’m here to provide a devil’s advocate type of response, while trying to watch where I step, and what I step in…

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Surely there is some sort of “middle-ground” between being racist, and being a savvy investor, no?

When I first read the press coverage back in July about “rental discrimination” in the Toronto real estate market, I figured that this is a story that could gather some steam and eventually result in public outcry.

But I have to be honest and say that when I read the first sentence of this article in last week’s Toronto Star, I kinda paused for a moment and questioned my own approach to renting.

Here is that sentence, verbatim:

If you are a student, senior, disabled person, or a single person and looking to rent, good luck.

The article goes on to say,

There’s obvious discrimination in rental housing, says the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s annual report released yesterday, identifying the problem as a key area that needs immediate intervention.”

I gotta tell ‘ya, this one was a bit of a head-scratcher for me!

I own a couple of investment properties, and I’ll be honest and say that my screening process for potential tenants is exceptionally thorough.

During my last search for a tenant in the Summer of 2008, I posted ads on Craigslist and Kijiji, and was forced to sort through about 200 inquiries in the first three days.

The results were rather disturbing, since about 95% of the people whom I had correspondence with were people that I would never consider renting to for a variety of different reasons.

From my perspective, I stuck my neck out and purchased a condo for investment purposes.  I sunk my own hard-earned dollars into the venture, and leveraged myself while taking on a huge amount of risk.

Shouldn’t I be able to screen my prospective tenants according to ANY criteria I see fit?

Now obviously I’m not going to screen my prospective tenants according to the most extreme of criteria, such as race.

But if I don’t want to rent to students because they are immature, messy, disrespectful, drunk, haphazard, and careless, then who is the Ontario Human Rights Commission to tell me any differently?

I wrote about my experiences in searching for a prospective tenant in this post and that was only a fraction of the real story!  I had one person email me who essentially said, “Dear Kind Sir, I am without a place to live in September and because I am currently unemployed, most Landlords refuse to consider me for tenancy.  If you would be willing to meet with me, I think you’d find that I am an honorable a person as any, and that I will service the rent to the best of my ability.”

Oh, sure…

If it were up to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, I’d open my door as wide as it could go, and invite this gentleman in for coffee!  This unemployed gentleman who admits he might be able to pay rent to the best of his ability.

I mean, what’s the big deal if he pays his rent or not, right?

It’s not like I bought this condo for investment and to acquire a good return on my capital.

Really, I’m just a philanthropist who is looking to help out an unfortunate soul.

I’m not going to put up a sign that says “(RACE) need not apply,” but I sure as hell am going to carefully screen my prospective tenants, and not only will I search for the best one, but I will weed out the ones who don’t fit the bill.

And what’s wrong with this?

What’s wrong with trying to find a tenant who will pay their rent on time, keep quiet, and live in a clean, orderly fashion?

I find it comical that the OHRC’s report mentioned “students” as part of the group that is being “discriminated” against.

In my opinion, not renting to students is called “smart business.”

I’ve seen how students live, and it’s not pretty.  So why the hell would I want one or two of them living in my $300,000 investment?

How is this “discrimination?”

Bleeding-hearts, please don’t answer that question…

You know what else?  I don’t rent to guys either.  Boys, males, men, or gentlemen.  Even the most gentlemanly of gentlemen!  Women are cleaner, quieter, and less likely to have ten friends over for UFC 101 and have a spontaneous ten-man tag-team match and put holes in the wall.  I only rent to women, no questions asked.

Is this discrimination?  Well, before you answer that, first you should ask me if I really care…

I also aim to rent to white-collar people who have jobs downtown.  These people are more intelligent, educated, and organized, and things like paying rent are first on their list of priorities since they keep tabs on their finances and update their bank-books regularly.

I’m looking for somebody that takes a proactive approach to paying rent and factors that into their monthly living expenses.  Not somebody who fears the 1st of the month when their cheque may or may not bounce.

So as for these “discrimination” charges being played-up in the media, I have to turn a blind-eye.

There may be some extreme cases out there, but isn’t their a line to be drawn….somewhere?

Is there a watchdog that’s really going to tell me I have to rent to this person, that person, or the guy with the thing in the place?

I have a question – if I am forced to rent to somebody that I deem to not meet my criteria, just because I’m afraid of being accused of discrimination, will the Ontario Human Rights Commission reimburse me if this person stiffs me for the rent?  Will they pay my court costs when I try to get this deadbeat evicted in front of the Landlord & Tenant Board of Ontario?

No?  They won’t?

Hmmm….

But I’m still expected to give everybody a “fair shake” and rent to the first person who can cut an uncertified cheque?

Well $%#$ me, right?  I’m just a capitalist pig who is completely insensitive to the harsh economic realities in our city!

I fear that the bleeding hearts will label ALL landlords as the fat-cats who sit in their bay-windows eating caviar while watching the huddled masses trudge through the snow in ungodly cold; all while keeping their many leather-bound books in their seven spare bedrooms.

Please.

There is risk involved in acquiring a return on investment; any investment, and it seems to reason that investors would take steps to reduce those risks however possible.

If not renting to students, unemployed persons, or people who don’t have enough income to service the rent is considered “discrimination,” then I’m as guilty as sin…

14 Comments

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  1. NH says:

    I realize this is a dated story, but the issue still persists. I would be interested to know what criteria you would use to select between tenants who have similar credentials i.e. credit score, employment, references? This is where the discrimination begins for many, as this is based on personal preference, and unconsciously racism or stereotypes kick in.

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  3. Erica says:

    Yes, people have rights as its private property to rent to who they please. However being discriminative against certain classes due to stereo types is going to give any landlord this ‘fat cat’ label the author seems so offended about. Is there not insurance for these types of things, and shouldn’t you be charging in rent to be able to upkeep the building and handle the odd insane renter? Is that not the responsible and smart business plan approach to the situation? And is it not part of the overall risk of being a renter?

    If a person can supply sufficient evidence, letter of employment, references from previous landlords, possibly guaranteer’s and so on. Than is it not bad business and flat out dumb to not rent to an otherwise perfect tenant? Just because they fit into one or more classes that you don’t approve of?

    To say all students are sloppy and unfunded party animals, men are all sport crazy slobs, all old women are crazy cat ladies, every blond is dumb, every East Indian is a terrorist, Every Chinese man is a compulsive gambler and so on ( all common stereo types used for sake of argument) . Who do you honestly have left to rent to? You are automatically cutting you prospective clients by %99 and that is just poor business and flat out unintelligent. And you deserve every label your given and possibly more.

  4. Luke says:

    While there’s no defense for tenants who trash a property and there are certainly issues at play between the rights of landlords and the will of the OHRC, I still take issue with your logic. Under your schema, owning property should be some kind of hassle-free money generating machine with no broader responsibilities or requirements. You’re viewing physical property solely as an abstract part of your portfolio. You seem to believe that your status as a property owner entitles you to have renters to show up, pay the mortgage for you and show you undue amounts of respects for being gracious enough to allow them to do so. There’s no acknowledgement that you need tenants as much as they need you. Just like any company needs its employees to conduct business and turn a profit.

    Also, you acknowledge the risk to investing in anything, but don’t acknowledge that certain kinds of investments carry certain kinds of risks, ie. having bad tenants if you’re a landlord.

    The housing market comes loaded with pre-existing conditions, and just like the stock market, if you can’t handle those conditions, perhaps you should leave.

    Oh, and saying that all students are slovenly, or that all men are messy, or that all young women just want to milk you for benefits is not really any different than saying all real estate agents are opportunistic scumbags. Cheers.

  5. sunshine scarborough says:

    The house beside mine is a rental property and over the years I have witnessed a stream of tenants come and go… and I have watched the landlord & his wife spend days and weeks cleaning out and patching up after each tenant has departed…. Most recently there was extensive water damage in the basement due to holes drilled in the wall for illegal cables… also rats have been a problem due to garbage piled in the yard and in the garage… Tenants always stiff the landlord if they can…. Being a landlord is not for the faint-of-heart!

  6. Dennis says:

    I agree with you, David. I currently have two investment properties downtown that I rent out. Much of your criteria is similar to my own. I look at these properties not only as investments, but as units that I may one day choose to live in, sell, or give to my (future) children.. As such, I don’t want to deal with ANY problems that may arise with unfavorable tenants.

  7. Hagbard Celine says:

    Bully for you! It is supposed to be private property, after all. however, if the god damned commies in teh NDP and Liberal Parties had their way, you’d not only bear the risk of investing in the property, but also renting to those that have no hope of servicing the rent.

    I disagree with your policy of not renting to men (I am one, and in over 20 years of renting apartments have never been late with the rent, nor caused any damage to the premises), but it is your property to do with as you wish, and I respect that.

    I say abolish the HRC’s, and have clear, unequivocal rules regarding landlord tenant relationships. But let the landlord choose to whom he rents his property. Even if he does discriminate.

  8. R.B. Glennie says:

    hello –

    thanks for sharing your story with us.

    It is a shame that you feel you must publish anonymously – I believe, I did not see a name attached to this entry.

    A couple of comments.

    I heartily second your remarks with regard to renting to students. I have never been a landlord, but years ago, a friend of mine, whose parents had moved but gave him the family home (don’t ask), rented out his place to a group of students.

    I had been in this home many times. It was a beautiful home, renovated probably in the late 1970s.

    One day, it was about 1989 or ’90 – I was a student myself at the time – I was visiting my parents and happened by my friend’s home.

    At that point, I had not seen him in several years; by chance, my friend came outside as I was passing by, and invited me inside.

    It appeared he was doing renovations, but I didn’t know why until I entered the house.

    The place was – not to exaggerate at all – was trashed. Not only were there holes in the walls, but grafitti and garbage everywhere. I couldn’t believe I was in the same residence that I knew from years before.

    I need to emphasize: I was a young man at the time, and I was shocked at the behaviour of my contemporaries.

    In short, it is NOT discrimination to refuse to rent to students.

    good luck

  9. dave says:

    Great point. Exactly!!

    Recently I was looking to hire someone. I decided I didn’t want to hire any woman under the age of 40, as there was a good chance she would go on one (or more) mat leaves during her time working for us.

    I’m work in a profitable business, and I get incentive compensation based on the profitability of my dept.

    Why shouldn’t I be able to hire whatever employee I want, based upon who will do the best job for me?

    Why should my dept have to pay benefits to some lady that wants to work for 6 months, then take a year off (!!), and then work for 6 months, then take a year off (!!!). Meanwhile I have to hire temp staff and train them to do her job, and then guarantee her job will be waiting for her when (if??) she decides to come back.

    It’s ridiculous.

    Why shouldn’t I be able to hire the person who will make me the most money???

    Seriously. It’s the same thing as your tenant point, and I agree 100%.

    Why shouldn’t I be able to hire which employee I want, based upon whatever criteria I want and whatever beliefs I have, to determine who will make me the most money! Why!!!

    ….oh, wait a second,

    …because it’s against the law to descriminate on the basis of gender or age??

    ….because those are the same laws that govern our society, and if I want to make a profit within that society and profit from the laws that advantage me, then I must also abide by the laws that advantage somebody else (and disadvantage me)???

    Oh.

    I see.

    Ahem. Nevermind.

  10. Maureen says:

    Unfortunately all the OHRC policy will result in is less and less rental accommodation as more and more landlords decide to use their capital elsewhere. My sister rented out a house for year to 3 adults – their rent was always late, they moved in 3 more adults and a dog, left without paying the last months rent, and left over $20,000 worth of damage to the house. She is no longer a landlord. But never fear, I’m sure the OHRC will move into monitoring the sale of real estate next – I mean who is say that someone with no job, no assets, no credit isn’t a good candidate for a mortgage. I think the US went that route and that turned out OK, right???

  11. Rod Fraser says:

    I have been a landlord twice in the past, and I had the same concerns that you mentioned in your posting. With my last rental property, I insisted on doing a credit check on each potential tenant. I rented to those who had good to excellent credit reports and they turned out to be responsible and valued tenants.

    I was considering acquiring another rental property, but on reading the OHRC’s concerns about discrimination, I have decided to pass. I’m likely not the only one.

  12. JB says:

    I think your rant is a bit off-based. The article is talking about discrimination in social housing. Excerpt follows:

    “”But I think they have mistakenly painted everyone with a broad brush. They need to differentiate between private and social housing landlords.”

    The report makes it sound like everyone has prejudices “but the fact is social housing landlords are under strong legislation,” pointed out Kerur. “We don’t pick and choose – there’s a waiting list.”

  13. Bob Devine says:

    I have just recently become a renter. I lost my wife to cancer 10 years ago and now because of age etc I have sold the house and have become a renter. Because of my references and credit history when I was looking for a place to live I had no problems at all. Those that do have problems should maybe examine their way of life to make themselves more desirable.

    Stick to your guns on this. You should not even have to give a reason why you turn someone down. If you do not like the looks of them its tough to be them.

  14. fidel says:

    The OHRC is trying hard to justify its existence. The OHRC needs to go

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