Mayor Brian Bigger
City of Greater Sudbury
Tom Davies Square
PO Box 5000, Station A
Sudbury, ON P3A 5P3
Mr. Ray Goulet
Greater Sudbury Landlord's Association
Dear Mayor Bigger and Mr. Goulet:
RE: Sudbury landlords refusing to rent to Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works clients without direct payment arrangements
I hope this finds you and your teams healthy and doing well.
I am writing today on behalf of the Ontario Human Rights Commission to address concerns arising from a quote on the Elliot Lake Today website from Ray Goulet, President of the Greater Sudbury Landlord Association (GSLA). His quote draws attention to a supposedly common practice of landlords in Sudbury refusing to rent during the COVID-19 pandemic to people receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) who do not agree to direct-payment-to-landlord arrangements offered by ODSP and OW. As you know, these arrangements are considered voluntary unless an existing tenant/client is in arrears, and if that is the case, pay-direct arrangements should always be made in consultation with the tenant/client.
Given the vulnerability of tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, the OHRC wants to remind the Greater Sudbury Landlord Association and the City of Greater Sudbury as a housing service manager and OW administrator, of their human rights obligations relating to rental housing.
Under Ontario’s Human Rights Code (Code), everyone has the right to equal treatment in housing without discrimination and harassment. Landlords are responsible for making sure housing environments are free from discrimination and harassment. People cannot be refused an apartment, harassed by a housing provider or other tenants, or otherwise treated unfairly because of Code grounds, including the receipt of public assistance like ODSP and OW.
Section 21(3) of the Code permits landlords to use income information, credit checks, credit references, rental history, guarantees or other similar business practices for selecting prospective tenants. However, they can only rely on these assessment tools if they are used in a bona fide and non-discriminatory way, consistent with the Code. Ontario Regulation 290/98 made under the Code sets out further details on permissible business practices for landlords.
Housing providers are not allowed to require that a tenant have their rent paid directly by a third party simply because the tenant is a member of a group identified by the Code, including people receiving social assistance such as ODSP or OW.
While there may be some circumstances where a direct payment condition could be shown to be a bona fide (or legitimate) requirement, such as when there is evidence of a tenant defaulting on their rent, or some rent-geared-to-income arrangements, it is the OHRC’s position that housing providers should adopt an individualized approach to implementing such an arrangement, and be mindful of a situation where a tenant’s circumstances may require the landlord to be flexible.
It is important to make sure that rental housing organizational rules, policies, procedures, decision-making processes and culture do not serve as barriers and do not have a discriminatory impact. For more information on human rights and rental housing, see the OHRC’s Policy on human rights and rental housing.
Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel
cc: Violetta Igneski, OHRC Commissioner
Randall Arsenault, OHRC Commissioner
Dr. Jewel Amoah, OHRC Commissioner