Tag Archives: Duty to Accommodate

CERA releases findings from Seniors’ Eviction Prevention Initiative

Between October 2016 and February 2017, CERA gathered input from and held roundtable conversations and a community forum with senior tenants, front-line workers, and other stakeholders across the GTA.

Read our report and recommendations. We hope that our findings will lead to community-led strategies and system-wide improvements that meet the needs of vulnerable senior tenants in the GTA.

Want a hard copy mailed to you or to someone who needs to read this? Email cera@equalityrights.org or call 416-944-0087 to provide your mailing address and request a copy.

 

CERA is grateful for financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the government of Ontario.

Exciting News – CERA receives funding for rights-based seniors eviction prevention initiative

CERA is pleased to announce that we have received support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to develop community based, eviction prevention strategies for seniors. As part of this initiative, we will identify eviction prevention strategies through a senior-driven process in the GTA. Using a collaborative gap analysis, we will gather information about the current needs of seniors; identify service gaps within programs that are already in place to assist senior tenants; identify solutions and strategies to prevent the eviction of senior tenants; provide best practice and policy directives; and identify next steps toward further assisting seniors and preventing evictions.

Stay tuned for exciting updates about this initiative in the coming months!

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The Ontario Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Government of Ontario. We sincerely thank them for their generous support of our work.

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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)equalityrights.org

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)equalityrights.org.

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:

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Helping Hoarders

Here at the Eviction Prevention desk we know the hardest cases involve hoarders.  But we didn’t know just how hard they can be.  Two recent cases have shown us the limits of our small organization when it comes to helping combat a very large problem.

In both instances, the clients were long-term tenants of subsidized units.  They were in their mid-50s, with significant mental health issues.  The state of their apartments was almost unlivable.  Their landlords, however, were very accommodating and gave CERA ample time to work with our clients.  We spent months building rapport, discussing options, connecting to other support services.  We really felt we could help our clients clean up their apartments and prevent eviction.

We failed.

Why?  The mind of a hoarder is strange terrain.  Unlike tenants facing arrears, the hoarder often does not see the scope of their problem; even when faced with eviction, they will deny a need to change.  CERA staff were overwhelmed.  We spoke daily with clients, but also tried to co-ordinate property managers, lawyers, extreme cleaners and occupational therapists.  In the end we failed primarily because of our clients’ resistance, but it also became clear that only a more fully-organized response would help the most extreme clients.  What we need is a multi-disciplinary team armed with a consistent city-wide plan that encompasses all aspects of the hoarder’s problem, from initial resistance to possible relapse.  Perhaps this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, especially in the current political climate, but a small initial investment in capital and ideas could payoff big time for tenants, landlords and city services alike.

Trying to find environmentally safe housing

These are the experiences of one of our clients, Jane, who lives with environmental sensitivities and has been struggling to find safe housing.

If you are one of the few Ontarians that doesn’t have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) or doesn’t have a relative, a friend, a co-worker, who has MCS then please read on. If you are one of the more than a quarter of a million Ontarians who have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (217,000 in 2005, Statistics Canada), also known as Environmental Sensitivities (ES), a human rights disability, then you know how desperately important healthy, safe housing is to improving your health, to making life livable.

I had no idea that when I started experiencing increasing migraines, sudden weight gain, rashes, coughing, IBS, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and other symptoms at work, that I was developing MCS/ES. Very small amounts of chemicals found in fabric softener, air freshener, perfume, scented personal care products, detergents, pesticides and more, were toxic to my body — chemically injuring the organs of my body. At first, I would be fine when I returned home, but over many months, the exposures to chemicals caused chronic MCS/ES and my home was no longer safe. I needed, what is known in human rights as ’a scent-free/chemical avoidance’ environment. And so I began the search for safe housing.

My first attempt was completely unsuccessful, mainly because it takes a great deal of research to know what is safe and what is not safe. I can tell you now that living near ‘brownfield’ remediation is not safe, living near a major street or highway is not safe; neighbours using fabric softener, detergents like Tide or Gain and venting these chemicals out of hot dryers; pesticide use in the neighbourhood, industry, rail lines and gas stations nearby; and the list goes on. Also, the house, itself, was not safe. Air freshener residue is very hard, if not impossible, to remove; products such as laminate and carpets ‘off-gas’; mold can make life impossible; and, again, the list goes on.

My last attempt at safe housing seemed to be almost perfect: wood floors, no scented products used for cleaning, radiant heat, no laundry exhaust near my unit from neighbours, no industry, and lots of trees. However, I had forgotten the most important thing of all: “For people with environmental sensitivities, their health . . . rests with the actions of others. . . .” [Canadian Human Rights Commission, The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities, 2007] When I asked for accommodation for my disability, some residents were very co-operative, but some were not — there was discrimination, reprisals, threats, and lots of chemical injury (e.g. cologne worn in the hallway by those who never used it before; cleaning the carpets in the halls chemically instead of using steam cleaning; cleaning common areas with ‘green’ scented products instead of the vinegar and water used before; running a truck motor under my window).

I foolishly assumed that people would understand that the environment is healthier for everyone when it is chemical-free: better for those with asthma, cancer, and respiratory disease; better for babies and children (studies show that the use of air fresheners causes new moms to be more depressed and babies to have stomach and other problems), the frail, the elderly.

I shared information available on MCS/ES, toxic chemicals, safe products: CERA (Multi-unit buildings and accommodating MCS), Canadian Human Rights Commission (policy and two papers on ES), The Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org on product safety, www.lesstoxicguide.ca on products, and many more. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recognizes MCS/ES as a non-evident disability. And The Standards for Customer Service, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, provides for accessibility for all disabilities in buildings with at least one employee, starting January 2012.

However, knowing you have a right to accessibility is very different from being able to get that accessibility, especially when you are dependent on people‘s good will and you have no guarantee that the future will not bring new chemical injuries. After many months of sharing information on MCS/ES, letter writing, record keeping (very important!), taking legal action, it became evident that this was going to be an on-going struggle in a ‘toxic’ environment, both chemical and emotional.

I will be moving once again, hopefully to a kinder, safer environment. And this is the struggle for most people disabled with ES/MCS: finding a safe oasis from a ‘chemically charged‘ world and finding understanding. Attitudes will change over time, just as they changed in relation to cigarettes and smoking. When people realize that they or their loved ones are suffering unnecessarily from chemical exposures, they change. Of course, that doesn’t help the thousands of people with MCS/ES that need healthy housing today — but, if each of us does our part to use only safe products, to spread the word about MCS/ES, to make our homes healthy indoor spaces with good air quality, then our environment, our homes, can become safer for those with MCS/ES, safer for all.

Smoking and the Human Rights Code

From a human rights perspective, smoking in apartment buildings can be very challenging.

Ideally, the fact that a resident smokes in his/her unit should not have any bearing on the health and quality of life of another resident. But it does. Buildings and apartments leak, ventilation systems don’t work as well as they should, and second-hand smoke regularly moves from one apartment to another. CERA has many clients with asthma, environmental sensitivities and other conditions who are being made ill because of smoke coming from other apartments.

Where a resident has a health condition that is being made worse by second-hand smoke, landlords and/or property managers will have to take steps address the problem. These can include ensuring that corridors are properly pressurized so that smell and fumes from apartments do not enter hallways, sealing any openings in the resident’s unit (such as openings from plumbing, electrical outlets, fans, etc.), and ensuring that kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans are working properly. Unfortunately, this is often not enough.

If steps to eliminate the transfer of second-hand smoke fail, can a landlord request that the resident stop smoking in his/her unit? What are the smoker’s rights?

In all likelihood, smokers’ rights are protected to some degree under the Human Rights Code. Strong arguments can be made that addiction to nicotine is a disability protected by the Code and, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission states in its Policy on Human Rights in Rental Housing, some people smoke to control the symptoms of other medical conditions. The Commission’s policy also notes that people with mental illness are disproportionately likely to be smokers.

However, even if smoking is considered a disability and associated with other Code-protected characteristics, such as mental illness, landlords are only obligated to accommodate smokers if it is safe to do so. If a resident who is smoking is making other tenants ill, the landlord could argue it would be an unreasonable health risk to permit the resident to continue smoking in his/her unit (assuming the landlord has already taken appropriate steps to minimize the transfer of second-hand smoke between units).

What about smoke-free apartment buildings? This is more problematic. In our view, an all-out smoking ban – which could significantly limit the housing options of people with this addiction – would have serious human rights implications. And unlike the example above, it would be difficult for a landlord to demonstrate that it is an unreasonable health or safety risk to permit residents to smoke anywhere in the building.

Is there a way to balance the rights of smoking and non-smoking tenants other than on an individual, case-by-case basis? One option worth considering would be to have a separately ventilated common-room for people who smoke. This could address the problem of second-hand smoke migrating from unit to unit, while maintaining the housing options of individuals who smoke.

Balancing the sometimes competing rights of individuals can be challenging – but it’s not impossible.

Further Reading: