Housing and the Human Rights Code

 

CERA provides free legal information and advocacy services to Ontario renters facing human rights-related issues in their housing. For more information about our services, click here.

The purpose of the Ontario Human Rights 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: housing, employment, services (such as education or healthcare), membership in trade unions and vocational associations.

The spirit of the Code is fairness and equality of opportunity. The Code helps to ensure that all people in Ontario have equal opportunity to access housing (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.

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.

Protected grounds under the Ontario human rights code

The Code says that you have the right to be free from discrimination based on your:

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of Origin
  • Colour
  • Ethnic Origin
  • Citizenship
  • Creed (Religion)
  • Sex (including being pregnant)
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Disability
  • 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.)
  • Gender Identity
  • Gender Expression

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 should 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.

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 they do not take steps to stop the harassment, they could be subject to a human rights complaint.

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 human rights complaint.

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.

Resources

Human Rights & Rental Housing in Ontario: A Self-Advocacy Toolkit (2016) – CERA

Ontario’s Human Rights Code (2019) – Ontario Human Rights Commission

Know Your Rights: Housing Discrimination is Against the Law (2011) – CERA

Overcoming Barriers: A Reference Guide on Human Rights in Housing (2011) – CERA

Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing (2019) – Ontario Human Rights Commission

Human Rights in Housing in Canada: An Advocate’s Guide (2008) – CERA