Define “Discrimination”


5 minute read

July 8, 2013

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…

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

Find Out More About David Read More Posts

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  1. IanC

    at 8:12 am

    Those lawyers – that’s discrimination…

    Dou##@es were included in list of protected group in the Canadian Human Rights act in the 2006 amendment, the year Harper became PM.

  2. Caitlin

    at 10:38 am

    Well, you’re right in that it would be difficult toprove and that you’ll be safe from ramifications because theprospective tenants likely don’t have money to chase you through the court system (since if they had that money, why not just buy instead ofrent). Do you realize how lucky you are though, to not be the single mother who realized her deadbeat boyfriend who got her mixed up in trouble with the law was bad news and she needed to get her children into a good neighborhood so they have a better shot inl life than she had? She’s just trying to raise children who would meet you” standards” for tenants after all.

    1. BoJangles

      at 12:57 pm

      But I thought the woman embezzled her local charity for $350k, spent time in prison, and has been investigated in the past for child abuse? I hear she has a crack problem and prostitutes on the side.

      Caitlin, do you know how lucky you are that this person does not live beside you?

  3. DrWhom

    at 11:47 am

    Interesting topic…

    Personally, I see that as the same sort of discrimination that insurance companies employ based on actuarial tables. I have higher life premiums based on my sex and my blood pressure. Is it discriminatory? Absolutely. Does the discrimination have anything to do with an elevated risk of supplying insurance? Absolutely.

    So the analogy here is perhaps the 3 boys with affliction t-shirts are associated with a greater risk of property damage and/or deteriorated neighbor relations. “Perhaps” is an important qualifier here – we would need to provide some data as to how this particular demographic generates a higher risk to the service provider. Without it, I believe that it is baseless discrimination, and hence, unpalatable in our society.

    Since we tolerate risk-based discrimination so freely as a society, it is not discrimination per se that is ethically/morally/legally reprehensible – it is discrimination based on irrelevant qualities such as race/gender/sexual orientation, etc.

  4. Stansky

    at 12:48 pm

    This country is a joke. The extent to which political correctness has usurped common sense, decency, and property rights is incredibly embarrassing. This goes all the way from no passing/failing at school any more to not keeping score at youth soccer games. That is all bullsh!t. We are training a generation of massive wimps, ripe with entitlement.

    Discrimination is defined (not by the courts I should add, but by as: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit: racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

    Ok, the key here is ‘rather than merit’. I am going to push some of your buttons here. I agree with David here 100%, but will take it one step further. Let’s say the the prospective tenant was black, and had a certain thing going on. He has a pitbull, wears lots of jewellery and has tattoos. So – if you look at statistics, black men commit more crimes than white men in the GTA, Ontario, and Canada. Is that ‘merit’? Black men have a higher unemployment rate. Is that merit? How do the tattoos, chains and pitbull work into that? If an intelligent person says he MIGHT be a drug dealer, then that should be merit, shouldn’t it?

    Something to think about.

    1. ScottyP

      at 1:32 pm

      You had me at the first 2 1/2 paragraphs, Stansky.

      Too bad you had to bring up statistics on race to justify not renting to someone who has a pitbull, jewellery and has tattoos.

      Race is not a choice, and the fact that many drug dealers are black should have NOTHING to do with whether someone should rent to a black person. Why should a black person pay a price for being black? Ridiculous, pre-1960’s thinking.

      But buying a pitbull, wearing excessive jewellery to an interview, and getting tattoos all over your arms? Those ARE choices. Sorry, but “expressing yourself” is a two-way street — and prospective landlords, employers, and even partners might not like what you’re expressing.

      Essentially, I have no problem with someone not renting to another due to the choices that they’ve made. You make a choice to represent yourself poorly in the eyes of the landlord? Well, then the landlord gets to make choices too.

      But on the other hand, landlords should NOT have the right to make decisions based on race, gender, or sexual orientation — in other words, what we’re born with and cannot and should not change (with a few notable exceptions).

      The only grey area that I can see is that of religion — is it a choice? It is something that can be rightfully seen in a negative light by the landlord? Or is it something that is so ingrained it can’t be differentiated from race or gender? There is where the debate should lie.

      1. Caitlin

        at 1:50 pm

        Who are we to know that their choices mean what we assume they mean? I have a tongue and an eyebrow piercing, a tattoo and am almost always in hoodies, one of which says “Tap Out” on the front.
        I graduated high school with a 93% average, went on to get my mechanical engineering degree with a GPA of 3.3 (B+), and have been employed by a power production plant since graduation.
        Oh and I’m a woman. Would I pass muster?

        1. BoJangles

          at 2:39 pm

          Nope. Bottom line is its MY property. my call on how to determine what.

        2. Bob

          at 11:46 am


      2. Stansky

        at 2:44 pm

        Scotty, I agree with you except this – yes it isn’t their choice if they are black, or Muslim or whatever. Correct. I still have the right to not rent to that person. If someone has a gun to my head and says you MUST rent to this first applicant, then that, my friend is authoritarianism at the best, slavery at the worst.

        Because someone cannot change something doesn’t give them the right to rent my place. Legally does it? I don’t care. I hope not. But maybe. Like David argued very well, the law is broken and stupid and not enforceable anyways.

        If there is an Indian family of 8 wanting to rent my 3 bedroom, maybe I just don’t want that many people in my house. Maybe I don’t want it to smell like curry, which is in my opinion 100% justifiable as a concern. I am the property owner. Property rights are what modern economies and democracies were built on. You want to sue me? Bring it. I’ll make your life hell.

        1. ScottyP

          at 12:22 am

          Fair enough, Stansky.

          But in the case of the Indian family, eight members trying to rent an inadequate space should be reason enough for a landlord to say no. (Even if the law doesn’t agree.) If they feel discriminated against because of the size of their family, well, maybe it’s time to move to the ‘burbs or put grandma in a home. Life is all about choices. But in this case, the fact that they’re Indian would be completely moot, IMO.

          As for the smell of curry? Well, that’s a choice too, I suppose… When I go to any interview, I always make sure to smell minty fresh. But really, is a family cooking strong-smelling dishes that big an issue for the average landlord? Maybe it is for you, but I’m thinking that’s a pretty feeble reason to turn down someone who is an otherwise exemplary candidate. But I guess if the landlord doesn’t appreciate that choice? I suppose it’s his right to be a prick.

          As for your counterpoint Caitlin, that’s honestly an impressive resume. No, the fact that you’re a woman wouldn’t or shouldn’t affect things in the slightest, thanks for asking. And with your background, you could express yourself with all the piercings you like and I’d still be more than happy to rent my place out to you. That’s why landlords should be able to ask for references and run background checks… but without even Googling for an answer, I doubt that’s even possible anymore.

          But Caitlin, about those piercings… if you were a high school dropout? A drug addict? Do you really think those piercings would improve matters for you? Make someone go out on a limb and give you a shot because they love your bull-nose ring? (Well, maybe some people would, actually… and that would be their choice as well.)

          The landlord should have the complete right to make that judgment, even if you were the nicest, kindest, most docile and respectful drug-addled dropout on the planet. In other words, even when the landlord is wrong about the choices you’ve made, it’s still his property. In your case, no doubt if you gave him your business card or maybe even showed him a copy of your degree, he’d come around.

          1. Caitlin

            at 8:04 pm

            I had no idea high school drop outs and drug addicts were incapable of removing their piercings and dressing in Gap clothes from Value Village in order to pull one over on their prospective landlord.

            My point was to say the snap judgements we make about people are not always correct, and people discriminate for stupid reasons.

            I don’t even really see why this is an issue – just price yourself out of the range you want to discriminate against and then you won’t have to worry about it.

            And whatever if people don’t want to rent to me – I own my house (first mortgage at 23 years old – didn’t have to rent long :D), I just get frustrated when people look down on others and deny them opportunities that they take for granted because they were born on 3rd and think they hit a triple and are therefore better than the people who are in less fortunate circumstances. I guess I’m a socialist commie 😀

          2. ScottyP

            at 9:42 pm

            That’s my point, Caitlin. Get off the drugs for a couple days, put on a decent $15 sweater from Value Village, take the piercings off and smile. And then even your run-of-the-mill drug addict can get an apartment (or a job, or a date) too. That wasn’t so hard, was it now Mr. Drug Addict?

            As for the “born on 3rd and think they hit a triple” comment, I love it and plan to steal it for future usage, if you don’t mind. Unfortunately, you’re being no less judgmental that the very piercing-hating landlords that you’re disparaging.

            That’s the thing: Like it or not, everyone judges… including socialist commies. Actually, check that: ESPECIALLY socialist commies.

            Play the game, or not… it doesn’t matter to me. I can get an apartment with my decent-but-not-great credit, unexceptional education and work history, and born-on-2nd upbringing just fine.

          3. Caitlin

            at 4:29 pm

            I’d much rather punch up than down though.

        2. Joe Q.

          at 3:15 pm

          Interesting post Stansky. If you owned a small business, would you feel justified in refusing blacks or Muslims as clients?

  5. Jeremy

    at 2:09 pm

    I like the subtle “Will Smith” reference David…

  6. Bill

    at 2:24 pm

    I own a rental property and know many others who do as well. At the end of the day it’s a business and if I rented to everyone who wanted a suite, I would be bankrupt because the Landlord Tenant Act makes it very difficult to get rid of bad tenants.

    Personally I don’t think most landlords care what color you are as long as you have good credit. Just like a bank, where you have to qualify to get a mortgage, line of credit, etc, you have to qualify to have access to my $600, 000 house. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.

    If tenants feel discriminated against by landlords, they should complain to the province. Until more balanced legislation comes into play that is landlord friendly, landlords are going to do their best to protect their investment and screen out the scammers, which there are a lot of.

  7. Jason

    at 7:01 am

    I’ve never replied with any feedback as of yet but have been a lurker for a while and must say I enjoy your blog.

    Currently as a renter (and former home owner) I can understand the reason for the valid “discrimination”. I must admit, although, I do have some pet peeves about (prospective) landlords.

    I have to give MORE information to rent a place than I did when I purchased a brand new custom home. SIN (Never will I), Credit Report (okay fine first page that’s it – since my is way above normal), Pay stub and or HR letter (debts – I won’t let you know so I’ll just say none) and the list goes on.

    The other pet peeve when I first attempted to get into renting (after over 7 years of home ownership) was asking how many properties the prospective landlord owned and I got “none of your business”. The irony is I don’t want an amateur landlord that won’t fix the problems with the property. I think the interview process is a two way street – in my opinion.

  8. Devore

    at 8:24 pm

    It’s pretty clear to me that landlords can rent (or not rent) to whomever they like, for any reason, or no reason. When refusing a tenant application, you don’t have to give a reason, even if asked.

    It is far too difficult to evict bad tenants, once they are in. It can easily take 3 months or more to evict someone who pays NO RENT, and that’s as clear cut a case of termination with cause as you can get.

    Sure, some innocent people will be misjudged an fall through the cracks. There are responsible, non-drinking, non-partying frat boys who pay their bills on time. But the only reason we can’t have nice things is because of that one asshole who abuses the system.

  9. Peter

    at 12:37 am

    The Canadian Human Rights Act only applies to private entities that are under Federal jurisdiction. Property in Toronto is under provincial legislation.

    The Charter is even easier, it only applies to government bodies.
    So there’s really no argument here. Landlord’s can be racist and discriminate to their heart’s content.

  10. Kevin

    at 12:13 pm

    I think discrimination is discrimination. It’s like saying “no pets” and refusing to rent to a family with good credit, long term jobs but the kid has a hamster.. it is just plain wrong…

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  13. Jenny

    at 1:10 am

    I’m wondering if it’s consider discrimination when property owner refuse to rent their property to the applicant who has bad credit score?

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