Landlords Face No Punishment for Discrimination in Online Ads

Sarah Boesveld, National Post, October 6, 2011

There’s a two bedroom basement apartment for rent in Toronto’s northwest end–one bathroom, newly painted and renovated with a side entrance. The ad, posted on popular classified site Kijiji.ca, comes with the typical caveats–no pets allowed, no smokers. And then, a less common request: Only Muslims need apply.

It’s the exact kind of specifications the Ontario Human Rights Commission recently warned landlords against putting in their online classified ads–any denial of a prospective tenant due to race, ethnic origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age and disability, among other things, is grounds for discrimination according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s housing policy and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

But for all its condemnation of the practice, the commission this week said they can’t police these online ads, that it’s out of their hands.

Instead, a person would have to call up the prospective landlord and file a complaint if it is clear they were not considered for the apartment because they weren’t Muslim, for example, or Chinese, Korean or Japanese as one other Craigslist Vancouver ad said it would prefer the successful tenants to be.

“If you say ‘Muslim only,’ in the law, you’d be discriminating against Buddhists, against Christians. That could be grounds for an application of the human rights code,” said Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations. Complaints about landlord discrimination regularly trickle into his office and other legal clinics in Toronto, but few are pursued because of the momentous financial and time commitment costs that come with hiring a lawyer and seeing a lengthy tribunal case.

Many such ads appear on sites specifically geared toward one community. But a search Wednesday brought up 32 results for “Muslim only” requests under the real estate category on Kijiji.ca. When contacted by the National Post, one landlord looking to rent a one bedroom apartment in Brampton, Ont., said he “does not want to give the apartment to any other people,” besides Indians or Muslims, as his ad requires. He did not have a specific reason for only wanting to rent to Indians or Muslims, nor did he deny knowing about the Ontario Human Rights Code implications. Another landlord who said in his ad for a two bedroom basement apartment in Mississauga that he would welcome Muslim families said he would also accept other tenants who were not of that faith, so long as they did not drink. The ad says nothing about prohibiting alcohol. Yet another, on Torontomuslims.com, advertises a spacious 1 bedroom apartment for a Muslim bachelor.

Despite the provisions in the Ontario Human Rights Code that say every person has a right to seek housing without discrimination and that no one should announce intention to discriminate against people, ethnicity-specific ads are indeed common enough that the Commission issued guidelines this June about how to write a fair housing ad, said Rosemary Bennett, a spokesperson for the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The move came after the commission yielded numerous complaints, which would not apply to ads for shared accommodations (in those, one can discriminate so to get the kind of roommate they want), but for separate-entrance apartments.

“We haven’t investigated any of these housing things because it’s kind of hard to do,” Ms. Bennett said. “We’re such a small organization with such a large number of possibilities for contravening the code.”

The commission’s mandate changed in 2008 to no longer investigate individual complaints–those would go to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The fact that the ads are online also pushes it out of Ontario’s jurisdiction and into federal territory, she said, even if the rental address is in the province.

For its part, the commission says it sees fewer cases of favouring a certain race or ethnicity and excluding others than it does those who actively exclude, Ms. Bennett said.

“We tend to usually see the reverse of that, such as ‘no blacks need apply, no people who are LGBT can live here, nobody who’s Chinese,’ so I think that tends to be the larger issue,” she said.

A spokesman for the right tribunal said it doesn’t investigate complaints, but will hear evidence compiled by complainants and their lawyers.

There is such a thing as “positive discrimination” in the Ontario Human Rights Code–renting only to people 65 and older if you’re running a retirement residence, said Vince Brescia, president and CEO of the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario. And while people have a “natural inclination” to seek a certain type of tenant, the law doesn’t give them much control over that, he said.

“If you have bigoted beliefs I think that might be your lost opportunity,” he said. “The law says you can’t do it, but on top of that, you’re turning away prospective customers and that just doesn’t seem like a great business decision.”

Messages to the Toronto landlord went unanswered Tuesday.

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  • Anonymous

    Why should these ads be any different? This is exactly the way our governments, academics and media encourage them to be. It’s great for them to give back and get in touch with their own and celebrate their special heritage, but it’s wrong and must be stamped out and apologized for and never happen again when whites do this. Even thinking about it is a bad idea. There’s the thought police for that.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with the Muslims on this.

    Government shouldn’t be intruding on business in a free market. A private seller should be able to decide who to sell to.

    We don’t force people to buy rotten vegetables; we let the market decide what gets sold and what gets left on the shelf. A seller can sell to any bidder he chooses; the market allows it.

    In all other areas of a free market, ‘choice’ and ‘discrimination’ are the foundations.

  • Spartan24

    I have rented my basement almost since we bought our house 6 years ago. We have had good renters and bad renters and have had to throw a couple out but we always got around the “discrimination” business by telling someone that “someone else had just come to look and they are coming right back” or some other nonsense. It was pretty obvious that a certain crowd would play loud music and possibly trash the place so it was easier to not rent to them. We had some phone calls after we placed newspaper ads that were obviously some anti discrimination group that were trying to make us say we didnt want them. After we started placing online ads we could get away with saying we wanted people “30 or older” without worrying that the “diversity police’ would call.

  • Matt

    No surprise here. In Ezra Levant’s book ‘Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy In the Name of Human Rights’, he points out that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has never prosecuted a section 13 hate speech complaint against a Canadian from a minority (i.e., non-white) background. 100% of persons charged and prosecuted under ‘human rights’ legislation are white.

  • Anonymous

    The law in the USA states that an apartment building must be available to all who can pay but that renting part of one’s own house can include being more selective. Many apartment buildings have elevators and wheelchair ramps – no need to install those in your house if you rent the basement. And I’m pretty sure you can say Muslims only or no Muslims, whatever.

  • Anonymous

    Beng a landlord is possibly one of the worst unpaid occupations one can have. It can simply get nightmarish, unless you have a very thick skin, and you’re happy to treat tenants like the enemy.

    Of course these Muslims need to live on some other CONTINENT, and I’d pay their plane fare(Ok, i’d cheer their departure, as they boarded a plane THEY paid for), but as long as they’re unfortunately here, I say let them rent to whom they want.

    No government , no ANYBODY has any true right to tell anyone who they can do business with, let alone rent to.

    Now let’s see if whites get away with this…

    Nope, didn’t think so!

  • Anonymous

    Some years ago in Ontario a white Canadian was selling his cottage. A black male white female couple wanted to buy it. On learning their racial makeup he said he was going to sell it to his brother, who was returning from another province. The white female then had her white mother (unbeknownst to him) go up there to make an offer. He agreed to sell. It was reported to the “human rights commission” and he was heavily fined and I think imprisoned (not sure about that part, though, this was 20 (?) years ago or so). The ultra liberal Toronto star newspaper made it a front page story, thus stigmatizing him more. I remember thinking this was HIS property. Why shouldn’t he be able to sell it to anyone he wants to. And NOT sell it to someone he doesn’t want to. Note the double-standard. Whites can’t get away with what muslims do with impunity.

  • Bubba

    It’s interesting how the comments I just read had more to do with “keep government out of our lives” than it did because the guy said “muslim only.” I agree, it looks like he only had a two-bed room, one-bath unit to rent. I know in my state a landlord with less than seven rental units (and one is their primary residence) is not held to Federal housing law. His request appears legal and within his rights.

    Oh, this is Canada, forgot, they have no rights.

  • White E

    I had no idea that Canada had such an immigration problem. It makes me uneasy that so many muslims are settling in North America. I suppose the great white north isn’t so white anymore.

  • olewhitelady

    In the U.S., a landlord can discriminate if he lives in his rental building and is renting three or less units. Thus, someone can always discriminate in renting sections of his own home.

  • Spartan24

    @ole white lady- while it is true that if you are renting part of your home or live in the building you can discriminate- in theory. In practice you would probably get in really big trouble if you actually told someone you were not renting to them because they were (insert minority or other group here). While I agree with allowing landlords to rent to whomever they please, I worry about the Muslims doing this because they are trying to create “Muslim ghettos” with a majority Muslim population. Obviously the best way to do this is to buy apartment buildings and rental homes and rent them only to Muslims. If this continues there will be large areas of the cities that are Muslim only and thus “no go zones” for local authorities and any other poor person foolish or confused enough to wander into them. This is already an issue in some cities in Europe.

  • Anon

    Sounds to me like they’re trying to recruit for terrorist organizations by creating enclaves. Everyone knows white Canadians are more reliable with the rent than some footloose immigrant from from the Middle East.

  • Mike H.

    Stories like this infuriate me.

    Freedom of association is a right no government should be able to infringe upon.

    I’d like to think that the laws in place in the US that prevent “discrimination” could get easily overthrown, if only one property owner had both the will and the funds to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.

    As it stands, it’s still fully possible to create white-only/black-only/whatever-you-want-only enclaves or even entire towns in the US, you just have to be either blatantly upfront about it and make it clear you’ll back up your statements with group violence or amazingly secretive.

    Kind of makes me wonder why that “north western front” group or whatever they’re called these days haven’t purchased a large amount of land and started leasing it to whites only.

  • Sonya

    Spartan24 wrote: I have rented my basement almost since we bought our house 6 years ago. We have had good renters and bad renters and have had to throw a couple out but we always got around the “discrimination” business by telling someone that “someone else had just come to look and they are coming right back” or some other nonsense.

    Yes, that is exactly what I used to say when I did dog rescue and people called asking to adopt an animal. Gives the perfect out with no explanations if you do not like them.

    When it comes to rental properties I believe the law (at least in most states) says if it is adjacent to YOUR home you can discriminate based on whatever you like, you just can’t put that in your ads.

    There is a limit, if you have a property that rule applies to 3 or 4 other rentals on the SAME property in which you reside.

  • Spartan24

    @Sonya- yes it works for so many situations!

    This was the basement of my home and I felt that I should be able to tell someone that they were not the right “fit” for my house. It is now up for sale and I am not really willing to rent again since we recently replaced all the carpet and do not want to replace it again before a sale.

    One other way that Muslims may be renting to only other Muslims would be to advertise in an Arabic/Urdu/Farsi/ect language publication so that if you didnt read the language then you would not know the apartment was for rent in the first place.

  • Spirit Wolf

    If it’s wrong to discriminate, then why is it possible to discriminate against a smoker and a cat?

    As a smoker with a cat, I find it offensive that I can be discriminated against re: housing, but if I had housing to offer, I wouldn’t be able to discriminate so openly against Muslims (but they still wouldn’t get my apartment.)

  • Spirit Wolf

    Wait a minute – come to think (many hours later) … Ontario banned discrimination against pet owners and parents with little kids ages ago, didn’t they? Or was that reversed?