If you rent a room in someone’s home and share the kitchen or bathroom with the owner or the owner’s family, you aren’t protected under the Human Rights Code (you aren’t protected under the Residential Tenancies Act either, but that’s a discussion for another blog). It’s a very precarious type of housing.
This exception under the Code has always troubled us at CERA. “Rooming” situations are typically the most affordable type of housing in any community and are often the only option for particularly vulnerable households such as youth, people with disabilities, refugees and recent immigrants, and others living on very low incomes. Because of this exception, these equality-seeking communities are left with few housing rights.
It’s not clear to me what the rationale is behind this exception – it always seems to be presented as a truism, that “it’s just the way it is.” Possibly, it stems from an assumption that once you share a kitchen or bathroom you are part of a private household. Governments don’t want to be seen to be prying too far into the business of private households.
Private household or not, do we think it is acceptable that a landlord can publicly advertise a room for rent and then freely refuse to accept someone because they are Muslim, Black, have a disability, etc.?
Unfortunately, this is a pretty fundamental exception in human rights law, with most provinces and territories having similar exclusions. It will take a lot of pressure to get governments to move on this. But it is possible. In the past this exception was even broader – applying to buildings with six or fewer units – so we’ve already moved some distance.
And, while widespread, this exception isn’t universal: New Brunswick does not limit its human rights protections in this way. Instead, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission clarifies that there may be circumstances where it would be reasonable for a landlord to restrict access to a room in a way that appears discriminatory. Where the requirement is a Bona Fide Qualification, or “BFQ”, it could be permissible. The Commission uses the example of a single woman renting out a room in her home who may only want to rent to another woman. (Ontario already permits landlords to restrict occupancy by sex, so this would be allowed without resorting to the concept of a bona fide qualification).
The BFQ defence isn’t unique to New Brunswick – it is a principal of human rights law across Canada. If roomers were brought under the protections of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, landlords could still potentially make use of this defence.
So what is the Government of Ontario afraid of? It’s time to change the law.