Category Archives: Advocate Supports

Information on resources, events and activities useful to housing advocates.

CERA Will Reignite Work on Women’s Rights

We are excited to announce that in 2017, with the support of Status of Women Canada, CERA will reignite our work on women’s rights by partnering with IRIS and Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Center and a number of other women serving agencies in Toronto.

This project will address systemic barriers that contribute to housing insecurity in Toronto through the development of an action plan that addresses barriers to safe, affordable housing and increases access to housing options for marginalized women across the city.

This project has been funded by Status of Women Canada.

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Check out new tools to help you claim your rights!

PROJECT UPDATE! Facilitating Local Responses to Housing Discrimination

After many hours of writing and lots of conversations with our wonderful partners across the province, we’re excited to share over twenty new housing rights resources and self-advocacy tools for tenants that we’ve been working on over the past several months. Here they are!

At CERA, we believe that knowing your rights is the first step to making them a reality. These new tools are designed to offer tenants and housing sector professionals key information and strategies to enable Ontarians to realize your human rights in rental housing. Translated versions are coming soon!

Know Your Rights Guide & Tip Sheets

This easy to use Guide has been designed to address common questions and walk tenants through practical examples of ways you can self-advocate: Tenant Toolkit – Human Rights & Rental Housing in Ontario

We will  soon be adding customized Tip Sheets for: Newcomers in Hamilton,  women who have experienced domestic violence in Toronto, Aging and Senior Tenants in London, Tenants facing discrimination in Windsor , Indigenous Tenants in OttawaIndigenous Youth in Thunder Bay, and  Tenants with Mental Health Issues in Sudbury.

Realize-Your-Rights Postcards

Want to self-advocate with a landlord about a time you were treated unfairly under the Human Rights Code? You can use these postcards to educate landlords and your friends and family about housing rights in Ontario.

Myth: Landlords can dictate how many bedrooms a family needs

Myth: Landlords can refuse to rent to someone who does not have references or a credit rating

Myth: Aging tenants need to move out to find a more accessible unit that meets their changing needs

Myth: Landlords can evict tenants that they think are “too old” to live independently

Myth: Landlords just need to collect the rent and do repairs, nothing else

Myth: Landlords can discriminate against indigenous housing seekers

Myth: A landlord can refuse to rent to someone because they have a mental illness

Myth: tenants with worsening disabilities need to move out to find a place that meets their needs

Myth: Landlords can refuse to rent to someone because they are “too young”

Myth: If someone doesn’t have landlord references or a credit rating, landlords can refuse them

Myth: landlords don’t have to rent to people who receive social assistance

Myth: landlords can refuse you if you don’t make 3x the rent

Myth: landlords can refuse to rent to families with children


If you or your organization would like hard copies of any of the above resources, please contact us at renee(at)

Next Steps! CERA will be re-visiting our partners across the province to work with local Housing Rights Ambassadors on spreading the word about human rights in housing in April and May 2016. Stay tuned! If you would like to join one of our upcoming workshops, contact Renee at renee(at)

Thanks again to our partners for their feedback and guidance:

Age Friendly London Network, CMHA Sudbury Manitoulin, Housing Help Hamilton, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, Odawa Native Friendship Centre’s Drop In, Voices Against Poverty and numerous shelters, drop-ins and community organizations in Toronto.

Special thank you to our funder for this project:


Putting 2 and 2 Together: Access to Justice and Articling

By David Wiseman, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa

The staff of CERA, and CERA’s many allies and friends (including me), have often lamented the inability to provide more help to more people who are claiming or defending their equality and housing rights in the rental housing market in Ontario.  There is a significant ‘unmet need’ for the assistance that CERA provides to tenants experiencing discrimination and one of the biggest barriers is lack of funding for more staff.   For instance, CERA does not have sufficient funding to regularly employ an articling student.  And, unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to CERA getting more funding for more staff is that decision-makers in our Province never seem to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to find ways to support organizations like CERA.  Lack of funding for an articling student is a case in point.

The most recent example of a potential missed opportunity is the Law Society of Upper Canada’s announcement of a new Taskforce to look at articling in Ontario. The LSUC is the organization that regulates lawyers (and paralegals) in Ontario.  Articling is the year-long on-the-job training that law graduates have to do before they can qualify as lawyers.  The Taskforce was announced after the LSUC learned that there is a shortage of articling positions in Ontario.  This just 3 years after an earlier taskforce had prompted a renewed effort of LSUC and the legal profession to generate more articling positions.

The establishment of the most recent Taskforce threatens to be another missed opportunity to help those, like CERA, who work in an area of unmet needs because the Taskforce isn’t mandated to address the problem of unmet needs.  In theory, if the Taskforce sticks to its terms of reference, it could go about its work trying to ‘fix’ articling without even considering the role that articling could play in improving the ability of organizations like CERA to continue to reduce unmet legal needs.  This is an especially strange thing for the LSUC to allow its own Taskforce to do, given that the LSUC was a key partner in the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project that issued a first report on unmet legal needs in 2010.  The Civil Legal Needs Project documented the significant extent of unmet legal needs in Ontario – including in relation to rental housing disputes — and shone much needed light on the broader problem of access to justice.

The LSUC needs to put 2 and 2 together and integrate a consideration of unmet legal needs and access to justice into the work of the Taskforce on articling.   CERA is just one example of the organizations that could end up with valuable extra capacity if this is done.  After all, the LSUC is charged with regulating the legal profession in the public interest.  Looking at articling without looking at access to justice seems more like putting the self-interest of lawyers above the interests of the public.  Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out that way.


CERA Presents to Legislative Committee on Province’s Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy

The Province of Ontario released its Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy in late 2010.  Bill 140, Strong Communities Through Affordable Housing Act, 2011, legislation which has passed 2nd reading and is now before the Legislature at the Comittee on Justice Policy, is the implementing legislation for the Housing Strategy.

CERA and the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC) appeared before the Committee on 24 March 2011, to encourage the Committee to adopt a series of amendments to Bill 140 to ensure that it is in keeping with the provinces’ commitments under international human rights law.

CERA provided an overview of the 5 components that Bill 140 must include to ensure it is in compliance with international human rights standards based on what UN human rights bodies and officials have indicated must be in a housing strategy.  SRAC then provided the Committee with an overview of practical amendments that could be made to Bill 140 to integrate the 5 components.   Both the Wellesley Institute and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario submissions were supportive of this approach.

Committee members from all three parties expressed interest in the CERA and SRAC presentations and the suggested amendments.  CERA and SRAC will  work collaboratively with other organizations concerned with housing rights and will continue to press for human rights amendments to Bill 140.  For more on human rights accountability of the province and Bill 140 click here.

CERA’s presentation

Summary of UN Consensus

SRAC’s presentation

Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario presentation

tenancy and mental health

If rental arrears are the most common reason for eviction, they can also be relatively simple problems to solve.  Payment plans, often with assistance from the Rent Bank or Community Start-Up benefits, can help reduce an eviction notice to basic arithmetic.

Things get murkier when evictions fall under the N5 rubric.  Interference with reasonable enjoyment, safety, even some criminal offences cannot always be explained as “bad behaviour”.  Very often, these offending tenants are suffering from some form of mental illness.  Mental illness itself is difficult to define.  It can range anywhere from anxiety to clinically-diagnosed schizophrenia, but the fact remains that such an illness can be serious enough to interfere with tenancy.  This is a significant challenge not just for tenants and their support systems, but also for landlords.  No one expects a property manager or superintendent to be well-versed in social work.

More and more at CERA, we find ourselves mediating between troubled tenants, overwhelmed landlords and other community supports.  This is a role for which CERA is particularly well-suited; we are a small organization and can adapt easily to whatever need arises.  And it seems the need has never been greater.

Advocates: Bringing the Law to Life

At CERA we do a lot of advocating for our clients. In fact, we rely quite heavily on the power of our one-on-one advocacy to change or influence landlords’ policies, and in doing so to effect real, measurable and timely change in the lives of Ontarians facing discrimination.

When I am on the phone with landlords, choosing the right words to convince them that their policies or practices are discriminatory, I feel that the law, in this case the Human Rights Code, is at its best. To many people, the Code is simply words on paper: a string of words chosen by the lawmakers of Ontario which look orderly and professional, but seem far from able to compel private landlords to change practices or eliminate barriers. Many Ontarians are not confident that these words can protect them. At CERA we advocate with landlords to make the Code real.  One-on-one advocacy can bring these words to life!

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is of course a crucial part of our human rights system, and it is a necessary venue for the many human rights complaints which cannot be resolved informally. But does every instance of discrimination require claimants to file pleadings, claim damages and wait for months to have the issue mediated or adjudicated? My experience as an advocate tells me that it doesn’t; that in fact, a formal legal approach would often be unproductive. More often than not, people who call CERA for help want to resolve their problems with the landlord informally and as quickly as possible. These people simply want the landlord to recognize that they have the right to enjoy and benefit from housing regardless of their family status, disability, ethnic origin, or any other Code-protected ground.

Individual advocacy allows us to make direct contact with a landlord, often on the same day that the discriminatory actions took place. We can speak with landlords and inform them that what they have done – or have failed to do – is against the law. More often than many would expect, this comes as a surprise to the landlords. If they disagree with our position, we can try to convince them. Even if this takes multiple phone calls or letters, we can often persuade these landlords to reverse their decisions, or change discriminatory policies. In doing so, we are able to assist our clients while also educating landlords so that they are less likely to discriminate in the future. To the Ontarian whose life improves because of this advocacy, the Code is no longer just words on paper, but a tool which has reached into their lives to protect them and ensure their dignity as a human being.

We will continue to assist our clients to file human rights applications at the Tribunal, and the threat of such action may help us persuade some landlords to change their approach to renting apartments. It is, however, important for all stakeholders in the human rights system to realize that the law is brought to life and used effectively every day through one-on-one advocacy. In utilizing this valuable tool, we can help protect the rights of many Ontarians without the need for pleadings, a “courtroom”, or an adjudicator’s orders.

Linden Dales, Human Rights Caseworker