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Re: Jennifer Brown’s February 16th article on apartment hunting

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February 21, 2008

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Letters to the Editor
The Toronto Star
1 Yonge Street
Toronto ON  M5E 1E6

Jennifer Brown’s article has good advice on how to deal with credit history and debt when assessing prospective tenants. But it does not mention the legal obligations landlords have under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Of most concern is Industry representative Rob Watt’s implication that landlords could use a 30 percent maximum rent-to-income ratio to deny tenancy.

Ontario human rights tribunals and Ontario’s Superior Court have ruled that rent-to-income ratios breach the Human Rights Code because they have the effect of denying tenancy to members of disadvantaged groups. They also don’t work. There is no evidence that people on social assistance default on their rent more often than others, or that they are less responsible with their money. In fact, the research shows that overwhelmingly such persons pay their rent in full and on time, and most people who default on their rent are working.

Watt is also wrong to assert that income verification should be a landlord’s first step in assessing tenants. The Code is clear on this: landlords can request income information from a prospective tenant only if they also request rental history, credit references and credit checks, and consider it all together. In other words, a tenant of modest income should not be denied an apartment if they have a good rental and credit history. Nor could a landlord turn away a tenant simply because their income comes from a source other than employment, such as social assistance, savings or retirement investments. None of the information obtained can be used in a discriminatory way.

During the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s recent public consultation on rental housing, many individuals and organizations told us that landlords continue to use rent-to-income ratios. We also heard that many are misinterpreting or misapplying other provisions of the Human Rights Code. So there is an urgent need to provide correct information to tenants, landlords and the organizations that work with them.

The Commission will be releasing its report this spring with a new rental housing and human rights policy to follow.  

Yours truly,

Barbara Hall
Chief Commissioner