I think you all know where I’m going with this one…
Is it okay to “choose” who you want to lease your investment property?
“Jews need not apply.”
“Blacks to the back of the bus.”
“White water fountain only.”
“Women cannot vote.”
Yeah, I know. That’s a pretty serious start to a blog post, and it’s probably not what you want to read at 9am on a weekday.
But it casts a light on where we’ve come from as a society, and why measures are in place to prevent things like this from happening again.
The Canadian Human Rights Act was established in 1985, with a purpose to:
“Extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
I don’t think anybody would argue that this is a misguided or mistaken Act, on the surface.
However, when it comes to renting or leasing properties in Toronto’s real estate market, we enter into somewhat of a grey area. Actually, scratch that – it’s not a grey area. The Act is pretty cut and dry. But what I mean is that when it comes to selecting a tenant for a rental property, be it an income property, or a former primary residence, landlords are being more and more selective, and constantly contravening the Act.
So my question is: do you blame them?
Are ALL contraventions of the Act the same?
For example, consider the following three situations:
1) A landlord refuses to rent to a black person.
2) A landlord refuses to rent to a white person.
3) A landlord refuses to rent to an unemployed, single mother to three children, with bad credit, a criminal record that was pardoned, but who can scratch together first and last month’s rent.
Do you see a difference between these three situations?
The Act is pretty clear. All three of these situations would result in discrimination.
But at what point is a property-owner, with a significant financial risk, allowed to be “choosey?”
The third example IS discrimination, no doubt. But if you were looking to lease out your primary residence for a year while you worked overseas, would you want the aforementioned single mother with two kids and a criminal record renting YOUR home?
Why shouldn’t you, as a home-owner, be able to say “thanks, but no thanks” to this person?
The Act is in place to avoid any “grey areas,” and it’s intended to be very clear as to what constitutes discrimination. The Act does not allow any “grey areas,” and does not allow for an individual to distinguish between situations 1, 2, and 3 noted above. Having said that, discrimination must be proved, and this is why it happens all the time.
Let’s look at a recent example.
I received an email a few weeks back from a young man who said he needed help finding a place to live with two friends.
I immediately knew what the situation was, and I emailed back, “Are you a recent graduate from university, looking to move to Toronto for your first job, along with two friends in similar positions?” He confirmed that this was the case, and I said, “Well I’ll be the first to tell you – you’re going to have a very difficult time finding somebody that will rent to you.”
That’s the truth.
He didn’t understand. He said that they all had great jobs, and they had great references.
I said, “I own investment properties, and I would never, in a million years, rent to three twenty-one year old boys.”
Am I guilty of discrimination? Yes, I am.
Do I care? Not in the slightest.
Is there a difference between me saying, “I don’t care how your references from Western check out; I’m not trusting three frat boys to live in my investment property when I can find a quiet, single woman in her early 30’s with a 10-year employment history,” versus me saying, “I don’t want to rent to anybody who is black, white, Cuban, or Asian?”
The Act says there is no difference.
I say that there is.
I recently rented a house for a client who is a lawyer, along with his wife, who also happens to be lawyer.
I told the tenant’s agent that the property-owners (landlords) wanted to meet with the prospective tenants for an “interview,” of sorts, and he responded by saying, “That’s pretty risky, and two lawyers should know better. If they’re going to interview my clients, and decide not to rent to them, then they open themselves to a discrimination suit.”
I’m sorry, but my reaction was a subtle chuckle.
I did – I laughed.
“Oooookay,” I said. “That may be true, but discrimination must be proved, and if your clients want to chase my clients through the courts, then they are welcome to do so.”
What else was I supposed to say?
Let’s say that during the “interview,” the prospective tenants seemed like really arrogant jerks who scoffed at the notion of taking care of the property. Let’s say that they refused to provide a pay stub, as requested, and said, “Don’t worry, bud. We can afford to live in your little house.” What if the property-owners got a “bad vibe” from the prospective tenants, and decided to keep looking?
Is that discrimination?
If the property-owners said, “We’re not renting to you because she is unemployed, and you’re self-employed, with no income history, and, well, you’re a dick.” Is that discriminatory?
Or are the property-owners just looking after their investment?
Don’t they have the right to choose the most suitable candidate? Or do they have to simply accept the first offer to lease that is given to them?
I have a feeling that the comments on this post will be somewhat mixed, and as usual, I want to interject my own opinion on the matter.
Personally, I believe that property-owners should be careful who they rent to, and if that means not renting to frat boys, people with no income and bad credit, or single mothers with criminal records, then, well, that’s just good business on their part.
Unfortunately, with the concept of “no grey area,” this means that property-owners could also say they don’t want to rent to anybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus, or, anybody that does.
The Act makes does not distinguish between the two types of “discrimination,” but I do, and I think about 99.9% of property-owners would as well.
I don’t want frat boys, who dress in “Tap Out” and “Affliction” t-shirts, crushing beer-cans on their foreheads on Saturday night’s “pre-drink” in MY condo.
Is that so wrong?
Ask almost any landlord in Toronto these days, and they’ll say, “No, it’s not wrong.”
It’s just the way it is…