Tag Archives: human rights

Call for Nominations for CERA’s Board of Directors

The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (“CERA”) is currently seeking a new board member willing to contribute their expertise to our dynamic team. If you know someone who has an interest in human rights, housing, and fundraising, please consider nomination.

CERA is particularly interested in broadening the diversity of our Board of Directors, and are keen to include members who have lived experience of housing discrimination. We encourage individuals of various demographic backgrounds, ways of being, and walks of life, and we intend to structure our meetings in a way that accommodates the needs of all members.

We look forward to your interest in helping support the valuable work of our organization in promoting and protecting human rights.

For more information, including application the application process, download a copy of the call here.

Under 30? Join our Advisory Committee

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UPDATE! : : : Interest in this position has been overwhelming! At this time we are no longer accepting applications for the Youth Advisory Committee. Please stay in touch with CERA about future opportunities

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If you are under 30 and have ever faced discrimination in housing or homelessness, we want your input. This is a paid opportunity for you to connect with other young people and help CERA improve its services. More details on the flyer above.

We are accepting applications for 10 positions.

**DEADLINE TO APPLY: Email your responses to these questions to Katie@equalityrights.org by June 17th, 2016.

Or call Katie if you have any questions at 416-944-0087 Ext 3.


We are grateful for financial support provided by a grant from the Peter and Elizabeth Morgan Fund and the Vital Toronto Fund at the Toronto Foundation.

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Another National Housing Day

It’s November 22nd, 2012. Another National Housing Day.

What do we have to show for it?

We have a federal government that continues to ignore calls for a national housing strategy and that, other than the odd stimulus blip, invests less and less in housing and homelessness programs. Don’t believe what they say about “belt tightening” and sacrifice. The money is there. It’s all about priorities.

We have a provincial government (Ontario) that has a “long term affordable housing strategy” that is free of substance and commitments, and that refuses to set social assistance benefits or the minimum wage at levels that would allow people to afford a good place to live. It is also about to cut a critical social assistance benefit that helps thousands of low income individuals and families get and keep their homes. Yes, Ontario’s finances were hit hard by the recession, but the money is there. Once again, it’s a question of priorities.

We have municipalities that are increasingly responsible for housing needs and associated costs that they are not financially equipped to address – all because higher levels of government refuse to live up to their responsibilities.

We have three levels of government that refuse to take seriously the human right to housing.

Happy National Housing Day.

What can we do about housing discrimination?

Over the past few months, CERA, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and COSTI Immigrant Services have been holding housing rights workshops for front line workers that provide housing assistance for recent immigrants and refugees.

We provided a session in Ottawa in October, Toronto in November and London in December. We’ll be holding our fourth and final session in Windsor later this month.

I’m responsible for the segment dealing with housing and the Human Rights Code and, invariably, I’ll see many people nodding their heads during the discussion of the different types of discrimination. Being refused an apartment because your income is “too low”, you have no Canadian credit or references or you have “too many” children, or being required to pay six or twelve months rent in advance is old news for these community workers. It’s what many of their clients experience when applying for an apartment.

Shortly after I see the heads nodding, a hand goes up. The participant asks, “What can we do?”

This is the most difficult question I have to deal with in any workshop. It’s easy to describe the law. The challenging part is making it work for vulnerable households.

Ontario has a human rights enforcement system, but the vast majority of people experiencing housing discrimination do not access it. Many are not aware of their legal rights or the mechanism for enforcing them. Those that are frequently don’t have the resources or time to file a formal human rights application and take it through the Tribunal process – a process which will, in any event, not get them the apartment they were denied. The proof is in the numbers: despite evidence of widespread housing discrimination, housing cases make up less than 6% of all human rights applications filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

In most cases, a person who experiences housing discrimination will just move on to the next apartment ad, try again and, often, be refused again.

During my workshop, I tell these community workers that they or their clients can call CERA and we will advocate with the landlord. The reality, however, is that CERA is a very small organization and we receive no funding to provide human rights advocacy services (we’ve only received dribs and drabs since 1995). Our services are provided almost entirely by volunteers and this limits what we can do.

I can also tell them to contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, but in most cases the intake process at the HRLSC is too long for any advocacy to start before the apartment has been rented. And few community legal clinics provide direct advocacy services related to housing discrimination.

Even if a person can access advocacy services, will anyone follow-up with the landlord to ensure the discrimination doesn’t happen in the future? No.

To effectively tackle housing discrimination, Ontario needs an enforcement process that recognizes the importance of early intervention and monitoring – where housing providers are monitored for compliance with the law and where community and legal workers can be ready to advocate with landlords immediately after discrimination has occurred. A system that focuses entirely on formal complaints, as ours does, will be needlessly expensive and will not respond to the needs of the thousands of recent immigrants and refugees, Aboriginal People and members of racialized communities, youth, people with disabilities, lone parent families, people living on low incomes and other disadvantaged individuals and families who experience housing discrimination.

It will not respond to the needs of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents – because that is who experiences rental housing discrimination.

The State of Human Rights Enforcement in Ontario

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario recently released its 2009-2010 annual report and, not surprisingly, it contains both good and bad news.

Let’s start with the good news.

People are using the human rights system. In 2009-2010 3,551 applications were filed with the Tribunal. Three years ago, the corresponding number was just over 2,300. This could be related to a few things. The human rights enforcement in Ontario was dramatically overhauled in 2008 to address a variety of problems with the system. There is a widespread perception (consistent with CERA’s experience) that the new system gives applicants faster results. The new system, therefore, may be more attractive to potential applicants. It may also reflect the fact that there is less pre-screening, or “gate-keeping,” of potential applications than there was under the previous system.

Almost 70% of Tribunal mediations resulted in a settlement being reached. For most cases, settling at mediation is a good thing. It gives an applicant the opportunity to craft his/her own resolution and requires much less time, stress and expense than going to a hearing. Overall, CERA’s clients have had good experiences at mediation. For the most part, Tribunal mediators have been very helpful, educating the parties on the Code and helping them understand the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.

Things are moving faster: In 2009-2010, 95% of the applications where resolved within one year of acceptance, with the average period being a little over 6 months. In 2006-2007, under the old system, the average period was 14.6 months. However, the active caseload of Tribunal is increasing, so timeframes may increase in the future.

And now for the bad news.

Housing case still make up a misleadingly small percentage of all applications filed – less than 6% in 2009/2010. There are probably many reasons for this, including the nature of human rights remedies (in most cases, filing a complaint is not going to help you get the apartment you were denied) and the particularly disadvantaged position of most victims of housing discrimination (low income renters, youth, recent immigrants and refugees, people receiving social assistance, etc.). There needs to be better supports for people who have experienced housing discrimination and who wish to file a complaint.

Less than 30% of applicants were represented when they filed an application with the Tribunal. While the Tribunal has done a lot to make the human rights enforcement process more accessible, this is still a legal process that is difficult to navigate without support. Applicants need assistance.

The wait for mediation is too long. This actually isn’t discussed in the annual report, but I’m going to raise it here. Three to four months from filing an application to mediation would probably be a reasonable timeframe. For our clients, the wait is about double this – and not much different from the wait for early mediation under the previous, “slower” system. This is just too long.

17% of decisions by the Tribunal were “dismissals on a preliminary basis” and the annual report provides no details regarding the basis for these dismissals. While this statistic presumably does not factor in the cases that were settled at mediation, it is a significant number and deserves clarification.

This is an important annual report for the Tribunal as it is the first to cover a full year under the new system. From the report and CERA’s experience using the system over the past year, it is clear that many things are working well. People are filing applications, things are moving relatively quickly, and the mediation process is largely effective. But there is still much that the Tribunal and the Ministry of the Attorney General can do to ensure that Ontarians have a truly effective and accessible human rights system.

Stereotyping can go both ways

At CERA, we often see landlords at their worst. Those brought to our attention are typically not landlords that are doing a great job, but those that are potentially violating the Human Rights Code. When we speak to them it is usually because they have (allegedly) discriminated against one of our clients. After 25 years of responding to discrimination complaints, CERA has developed a pretty one-sided view of the rental housing sector.

It’s nice, then, when we can get beyond our own prejudices.

Over the past few months, CERA staff and volunteers have been scanning ads in Kijiji and Craigslist to educate landlords whose ads indicate that they may be violating the Code (see “Kijiji – stop promoting housing discrimination“). We’ve been picking out ads that say things like, “looking for a professional single or couple,” “seeking mature, quiet individual,” “proof of employment required” or “no kids” and either calling or e-mailing the posters to educate them on the Code and its prohibitions against discrimination directed at families with children, young people, people receiving social assistance, etc.

When we started, we weren’t sure how this outreach would be greeted. Would the landlords hang up on us, yell at us to mind our own business, tell us that they can rent to whomever they want?

We’ve heard all of these things, though more often the landlords have been open to our calls. Most have said they didn’t realize their rental requirements or “preferences” were potentially discriminatory and have been quick to change their ads. Many have also wanted us to forward additional information on CERA and the Code. With most of the landlords, there appears to be a genuine interest in understanding the Code and how it applies to their rental property. And most haven’t been professional landlords (i.e. landlords that should “know better”) – they’re just people renting out apartments in their homes.

CERA counsels others not to generalize or make decisions based on assumptions. When it comes to landlords, it appears that we haven’t always followed our own advice.

Tenants Facing Eviction for Children’s Noise have Rights under Ontario’s Human Rights Code

Imagine you are in the common hallway of your apartment building with your 2 year old daughter. She is laughing, talking and running towards the elevator. You notice there are people coming towards her and she may be in their way, so you take her hand and guide her away from the centre of the hall. She protests vehemently and starts to cry. You try to explain to her why you have stopped her from running, but she is only 2 years old and has no interest in this reasoning. She flops herself onto the floor and rolls around crying even louder.   You try to hush your daughter to no avail, while anxiously awaiting the opening of the elevator door so you can pick her up, get on and get out of the building. Those of us with children know this is not an unfamiliar scene. In fact, this may be one of several such scenes that you will deal with most days, when you have a 2 year old child.

Now imagine the next day you receive an Eviction Notice in your mailbox. It says you have disturbed the reasonable enjoyment of your neighbours by allowing your child to run freely and cry in the common hallway. You panic. You have finally moved into an apartment that is nice enough, clean enough, with rent that you can afford. It’s close to work, shopping, and daycare. It’s your home and you want to stay in your home. Then you suddenly feel angry because you think back to yesterday, when the incident occurred and you remember you actually were quite concerned about your neighbours in the hallway and did your best to try to keep your daughter from disturbing them. You now are panicking again. You tell yourself that you can’t lose this apartment, it’s not fair.

Indeed it is not fair. In fact it may be a violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code (Code). Under the Code, children have the right to make a reasonable amount of noise, simply because they are children and children make noise. Parents have the right not to be harassed and threatened with eviction for regular children’s noise such as crying, laughing, playing and running. At a Landlord and Tenant Board Hearing, the adjudicator must consider the Code when making the decision to evict or not evict. Landlords are obligated to make accommodations where possible such as providing carpeting to reduce noise. For more information visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission website at: www. ohrc.on.ca

Kijiji – stop promoting housing discrimination

Over the past few weeks, CERA volunteers have been scanning rental housing ads in Kijij to pro-actively reach out and provide human rights education to landlords who might be violating the Code.

The volunteers have been busy.

They have found dozens of ads – some blatantly discriminatory, others which may not explicitly discriminate, but which are still problematic.

Some of the more obvious examples:

“Require…permanent employment.”

“No children”

“Suitable for mature, working individual”

“Basement apartment for couple/employee”

“You must have a steady full time job”

“Applicants over 40 years old only”

“Professionals only please”

“No government assistance of any kind”

Other ads were less obvious, but still communicated to young people, people receiving social assistance, families with children and other groups protected under the Code that they are either not welcome and will not be treated equally if they choose to apply:

“A professional single or couple welcome!”

“Perfect for couple and young professionals”

“Best place for a single working person”

“Ideal for senior person or couple”

“Perfect for a retired couple”

Unlike rental ads in Viewit.ca, Renters News and most large newspapers, ads in Kijiji and other online “want ads” such as Craigslist, are not screened. As a result, exclusionary wording is common-place. While both Kijiji and Craigslist have mechanisms for reporting problematic ads, they do not make it clear to posters that they must abide by the Human Rights Code.

Kijiji and other free online classifieds need to start being pro-active in promoting human rights and removing discriminatory ads. There are many options they investigate – directly monitoring and removing ads, posting information on the Code, or adding discrimination as a reason for reporting an ad.

It’s time Kijiji and other online classifieds realized that they can play a significant role in promoting housing equality – or inequality.