Housing and the Human Rights Code
Why does the Human Rights Code exist?
The purpose of the Human Rights Code (Code) is:
… to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination … [and to create] … a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person so that each person feels a part of the community and is able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the province.
The Code says that every person in Ontario has the right to freedom from discrimination in the following areas: employment, services (such as education or healthcare), membership in trade unions and vocational associations, in contracts and in the occupancy of accommodation (housing). This booklet will focus only on housing.
How important is the Code?
The Code is the most important piece of legislation in Ontario. The Code overrides all other law in the province, unless the other legislation says explicitly that this is not the case. This means that provincial laws or regulations can take precedence over the Code only if they specifically state that they are applicable despite the existence of the Code.
Who is protected by the Code?
Prohibited grounds of discrimination
The Code says that you have the right to be free from discrimination based on your:
- Place of Origin
- Ethnic Origin
- Creed (Religion)
- Sex (including being pregnant)
- Sexual Orientation
- Age (16 years and over in housing)
- Marital Status
- Family Status
- Receipt of Public Assistance (e.g.: if you are receiving Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program benefits, Employment Insurance, etc.)
Housing and the Code
The spirit of the Code is fairness and equality of opportunity. In the sections about housing, the Code helps to ensure that all people in Ontario have equal opportunity to access accommodation, and equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits that come along with that housing. Section 2(1) of the Code says:
Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status, disability or the receipt of public assistance.
A housing provider cannot treat a person unfairly or refuse to rent to them because of a prohibited ground of discrimination.
What types of housing are covered by the Code?
The Code applies to self-contained dwellings, including, private market units, public housing (subsidized) units, condominiums, and cooperative housing units. If you share a bathroom or a kitchen with your landlord, the Code does not apply.
What does the Code say about harassment?
Section 2(2) of the Code states:
Every person who occupies accommodation has a right to freedom from harassment by the landlord or agent of the landlord or by an occupant of the same building because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, age, marital status, family status, disability or the receipt of public assistance.
Harassment is a course of comment or conduct, based on a prohibited ground of discrimination, that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome. Harassment usually involves ongoing unwelcome and humiliating behaviour. One single incident of unwelcome behaviour may not qualify as harassment under the Code, unless a poisoned environment has been created by the one incident.
Who is responsible for stopping harassment?
It is illegal for a landlord, agent of the landlord or another occupant of the building to harass a resident on the basis of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. If one resident is subjecting another resident to discriminatory harassment, it is the landlord’s responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure that the harassment stops. If he/she does not take steps to stop the harassment, he/she could be subject to a human rights complaint.
What is reprisal?
Reprisal is a retaliatory act. Someone commits reprisal when they try to take revenge or get even with the person who made the complaint against them. Reprisal alone can form the basis of a complaint.
What does the Code say about reprisal?
Every person has a right to claim and enforce his or her rights under this Act, to institute and participate in proceedings under this Act and to refuse to infringe a right of another person under this Act, without reprisal or threat of reprisal.
Every person has a right to claim or enforce their rights under the Code . It is a violation of the Code for someone to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against you because you claimed or enforced your human rights. If a resident files a human rights complaint against a landlord, the landlord should not take actions to “get even”. Negative behaviour toward a complainant because of the complaint could make the landlord liable for an additional human rights complaint, this time alleging reprisal.
You also have the right not to infringe the rights of others. This means, for example, that a rental agent who is ordered by a landlord to refuse applicants who have children has a right to ignore the request. If the landlord attempts to discipline the rental agent, the agent may file a human rights complaint against the landlord.
Webinar: The Human Rights Code and Rental Housing
This is the recording of a webinar presented on October 17, 2011. To view the webinar in Quicktime/MP4 format, click here.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code
A Road to Home: Working with Homeless Immigrants and Refugees (archived web sminar). Click here to view the seminar (Flash format), presented by Carolina Gajardo of COSTI Immigrant Services. You can also download a QuickTime/MP4 version (35 MB) (April 2011)
CERA’s Submission to the Ontario Human Rights Commission on Human Rights in Rental Housing (2007) (with the Social Rights Advocacy Centre and the National Working Group on Women and Housing) DOC
The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing (2009)
Trying to Find a Place to Live? Discrimination - It’s Against the Law (2007) PDF
Young and Trying to Find a Place to Live? Discrimination is Against the Law (2008) PDF
New to Canada and Facing Discrimination? (2009) PDF
Ontario’s Human Rights Code, Disability and the Duty to Accommodate: A Guide for Housing Workers and Tenants (2007) PDF
Ontario’s Human Rights Code, Disability and the Duty to Accommodate: A Guide for Landlords (2007) PDF
Sorry, It’s Rented: Measuring Discrimination in Toronto’s Rental Housing Market (2009) PDF