Stories

CERA will occasionally be posting stories documenting the experiences of our clients and others who have faced discrimination in housing.

We’d like to hear from you. If you have a story of housing discrimination, e-mail us  and we may be able to post it.

Farzan

Farzan was turned down for an apartment because he receives social assistance and could not provide a guarantor who made enough money. Watch his video below:

Farzan’s Story from CERA on Vimeo.

Sharon

Sharon has a disability and uses a walker and scooter to get around. To access her apartment, she needs to climb a set of stairs in the lobby. She has spent years trying to get her landlord to install a lift. Watch her video below:

Sharon’s Story from CERA on Vimeo.

Natalie and Tim

Natalie and her partner Tim are a young couple who have recently completed studies in the UK and Hamilton, and have decided to relocate to Toronto. They are looking for a two bedroom apartment but have faced tremendous difficulty in locating a residence that is able to meet both their financial and accessibility needs.

Why? Tim has Cerebral Palsy Spastic Quadriplegia, and relies on the continuous use of a powered wheelchair. As a result, a key factor in their housing search has been to locate accommodation that has (among other home modifications) an accessible roll-in shower.

Over the last two months, Natalie and Tim have been searching for appropriate apartments, contacting various individuals and rental properties to no avail. They have been advised to go on waiting lists for accessible units in non-profit housing or forgo the idea of living together. It has even been suggested that Tim should shower daily at a local gym or YMCA.

‘We believe that this is [discrimination based on disability] and that we have the right to live together and firmly believe that every person has a right to bath in [their] own homes [independently]’.

Unfortunately, Natalie and Tim are still searching for suitable housing. They have asked CERA to share their story to increase awareness of the current state of [in-] accessible housing in Canada.

Jessica

Jessica Larabee is a young woman who receives Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. On September 6th, 2010, she saw an advertisement on Viewit.ca for a bachelor apartment operated by a property management company with residential properties across the Greater Toronto Area. The location – downtown Toronto – was good and, at $739/month, the rent was affordable to her.

The next day, Jessica called the number listed in the ad and spoke to a rental agent. When Jessica asked about the rental criteria, the agent said that they would do a credit check and that the lease would be for one year. The rental agent then asked Jessica if she was employed. When Jessica said that she was receiving ODSP benefits, the rental agent told her that she would need to get someone to co-sign on the lease and she would also need to provide copies of her medical documentation. Jessica was shocked and asked for an explanation, to which the rental agent replied, “They are running a business and not a homeless shelter.” The rental agent then rudely ended the call.

To see if someone in paid employment (and not receiving disability benefits) would be treated this way, Jessica asked her mother, Francine Larabee, to anonymously call and inquire about the apartment. Francine contacted the rental agent and, like Jessica, was asked if she was employed. Francine said “Yes.” The rental agent seemed pleased by this and, as expected, did not tell Jessica’s mother that she would need to provide a co-signor or medical documentation. These extra requirements were made of Jessica simply because she was receiving disability benefits. The rental agent appeared to be acting on the discriminatory assumption that a person in receipt of ODSP benefits will not be a good tenant.

A few days later, Theresa Thornton from CERA called the building and confirmed that rental applicants in receipt of ODSP would need to provide a co-signor to be eligible for an apartment.

On September 24th, Jessica filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.  She hopes her application will stop the property management company from discriminating in the future. CERA is representing her.

Paul

Paul lives with his wife in a condo townhouse in Burlington. Because he has Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, Paul now relies on a motorized wheelchair for mobility.

When Paul first moved into the condo in 2000, he was not yet using a wheelchair and was able to use the stairs leading up to the entrance of his unit. By 2008, however, Paul’s mobility had decreased and he was finding it increasingly difficult to enter his home.  Because of this, and because he knew that he would be using a wheelchair in the near future, Paul made a request to the condo’s Board of Directors to install a ramp leading up to his door.

In response, the Board of Directors said that Paul would need to cover the complete cost of the ramp, despite the fact that the townhouse’s entrance, external stairs and walkway are part of the condo complex’s “common element” and the condo corporation is responsible for their repair and maintenance. The Board also said that Paul would need to convene a meeting with all of the condo owners (who would vote on the request), pay for the rental of the meeting space and prepare and print a complete set of plans for each condo owner.

Paul provided the Board of Directors with various materials related to the Human Rights Code. He made it clear that, as the stairs were under the responsibility of the condo corporation and he had a demonstrated medical need for a ramp, it would be the corporation’s responsibility to install and pay for the ramp.

When Paul requested to meet with the Board, he was told he would first need to provide them with a legal opinion from an Ontario lawyer on the issue.  Paul, with CERA’s assistance, made numerous attempts to provide the Board with the information it requested. Ultimately, however, the Board of Director’s refused to meet with him or seriously consider his request for accommodation.

With the assistance of CERA and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, Paul brought his case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The Tribunal found that the condo corporation had violated Paul’s rights under the Human Rights Code by failing to appropriately accommodate his needs as a person with a disability. The Tribunal ordered the condo corporation to purchase, install and maintain the ramp, develop an internal human rights policy and complaint mechanism and pay Paul $12,000 for infringing his rights.

A copy of the full decision can be found here.

Toni

Toni lives in a subsidized apartment. She was forced to pay a higher percentage of her income on housing than other subsidized tenants simply because she receives disability benefits. Watch Toni’s video below:

Toni’s Story from CERA on Vimeo.

Philip

Philip was looking for a two-bedroom apartment in Hamilton for himself, his wife and his young daughter. He saw a sign in front of a building advertising an available apartment and decided to look into it. A staff person showed him the apartment and, being pleased with what he saw, Philip brought his family to view the unit. He then submitted an application along with a cheque for first and last month’s rent.

A few days later, Philip contacted the building to ask about the status of his application. He spoke to the staff person who told him that he and his family had been declined. Philip was caught off-guard by this, as he had excellent landlord and credit references and more than enough income and savings to cover the rent. In addition, the apartment was still being advertised as available on the sign in front of the building. Philip asked why he had been declined, but the staff person would only say that the “committee” that makes the decision said “no.”

This answer did not satisfy Philip and he contacted the head office of the property management company. Staff at the head office also refused to provide him with any reasons for denying his application.

Because he was clearly a good applicant and the property management company would not provide any legitimate reasons for turning him down, Philip could only assume that his rejection was related in some way to the fact that he has a child and/or that he and his family are Black.  Philip had talked with a former resident of the building who said that she had never seen a child in the building. The property management company had also promoted one of its other buildings as having, “stable, quiet, mature tenants,” suggesting a bias against families with children.

Philip filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging that he and his family had experienced discrimination based on race and family status, and was able to reach a settlement through the Tribunal’s mediation process.

Tamara

Tamara is a young woman receiving Ontario Disability Support Program benefits. In October 2008, she saw an ad on Craigslist for a bachelor apartment in the Parkdale area of Toronto. The apartment was advertised at $700/month, a rent Tamara felt she could afford on her income from disability benefits.

Tamara went to view the apartment, bringing along a friend, Nadine, for support. The superintendent showed her the apartment. Tamara liked it and asked for an application. The super then asked, “What do you do for a living?” When Tamara said that she was receiving disability benefits, the super said, “I don’t rent to those people. Those kinds of people trash apartments and are bad tenants.” Tamara was shocked and asked, “Do you think I’m that type of person?” The super just walked away, yelling and swearing at Tamara and her friend. “I will not rent to those kinds of people!”

Later that same day, Tamara’s friend called the building and spoke to the wife of the superintendent. Nadine said that Tamara had been treated in a discriminatory way. The wife of the superintendent said she didn’t care, and hung up the phone.

Tamara filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario which was ultimately settled through mediation.

Diane

Diane lives with environmental sensitivities, a medical condition that makes her extremely sensitive to indoor air quality. Breathing in odours, fumes and other pollutants in the air can cause her to have breathing problems and eye/nose irritation, among other reactions.

For many years, Diane has lived in an apartment building in Toronto. She made numerous complaints to the property manager about the scented cleaning products being used in the hallway on her floor, the garbage chute outside her unit and the main lobby of the building. The property manager promised to look into the issue, but never did.

At one point, the management sprayed the building for cockroaches without giving Diane any notice and she was made very ill from the fumes. A few months later, the walls in the hallway outside her unit were painted with a highly toxic oil-based paint. Again, Diane was not notified and became ill. The fumes were so bad that she was forced to move out of her unit and stay with her sister.

Diane contacted CERA to assist with her advocacy. She and CERA staff provided the management with information on environmental sensitivities, a letter from her doctor explaining her medical needs and lists of safe cleaning products. Based on this advocacy, the management provided Diane with alternate accommodation while work was being done on her floor. They also provided her with rent credits to cover a portion of the time she had to stay at her sister’s.

However, when she moved back into her unit, the problems continued: strong smelling cleaning products and disinfectants continued to be used in the common areas of the building and renovations/repairs continued without adequate notice or the offer of alternate accommodation.

Ultimately, Diane had no option but to file a human rights complaint. With CERA’s assistance, she was able to resolve this complaint and the management company agreed to switch to non-toxic cleaning products, provide adequate written notice before engaging in non-emergency work and use dust barriers when conducting repairs and renovations. While Diane continues to have occasional problems with fumes in the building, her indoor environment – and the environment for all residents – has improved significantly.