When you want to rent an apartment or house, you usually need to fill out an application or give some information to the landlord. Before they decide whether or not to rent to you, a landlord can ask:
- what your income is
- if you work, and where you work
- how many people will be living with you
- the names of people who will be living with you
- if you have pets
- if you smoke
- permission to do a credit check
- references from past landlords
- in some cases, if you have a guarantor or co-signer
What a landlord is not allowed to ask
A landlord is not allowed to ask questions that could be used to discriminate against you. For example, they are not allowed to ask:
- if you are pregnant or have children
- if you plan to have children, or if you plan to have more children
- if you are married, single, or divorced
- your religion or ethnic background
- your sexual orientation
- if you get welfare or other public assistance
- if you have a disability
- your age (even if you are 16 or 17 as long as you are living away from your parents)
- if you are a Canadian citizen
If the landlord asks any of these questions or won’t rent to you because of your answers, this could be discrimination.
Before a landlord rents you a place, they might want to do a credit check to see if you usually pay your bills on time.
A landlord does a credit check by getting a copy of your credit report. A credit report is a detailed list of your debts, your bill-paying history, and other information about you.
A bad credit history means that you have had trouble paying your bills in the past. A landlord can decide not to rent to you if you have a bad credit history.
A bad credit history is not the same as having no credit history. Many young people or newcomers to Canada have little or no Canadian credit history. If a landlord refuses to rent to you for this reason, that could be discrimination.
Ontario law says what can and cannot be included in a credit report.
A landlord needs your written permission to check your credit. Usually this permission is part of the rental application that you fill out.
To do a credit check the landlord will need your:
- full name
- current address
- date of birth or your Social Insurance Number (SIN).
A landlord cannot ask you for your date of birth but you can give it to the landlord to do the credit check.
A landlord can ask you for your SIN but you do not have to give it to them. They will need either your date of birth or your SIN to run a credit check. If you choose to give your SIN, it is a good idea to ask the landlord how they will protect their records and keep your information safe.
A guarantor is a person who promises the landlord that they will pay your rent if you stop paying for any reason. They are sometimes called a "co-signer" because they sign the lease too. A guarantor is often a parent, family member, or close friend.
A landlord can ask for a guarantor if you have bad references, a bad credit history, or a history of not paying your rent.
They cannot ask you for a guarantor for a reason that discriminates against you. For example, a landlord can't ask for a guarantor just because
- you're a single parent
- you're new to Canada
- you are getting social assistance
- you have a disability
- you are young (as long as you are at least 18, or at least 16 and on your own)
Some landlords might tell you they won't rent to you at all, or they will only rent to you with a guarantor, if the rent would be more than a certain percentage of your income.
For example, they might say the rent can't be more than 30% of your income. So if the monthly rent is $900, they won't rent to you if your income is less than $3,000 per month ($36,000 per year).
This often called a rent-to-income ratio.
It could be discrimination if a landlord won't rent to you or demands a guarantor, just because of a rent-to-income ratio. A landlord is allowed to take your income into account but they must also look at other information that could show whether you will be a reliable tenant.
For example, a good reference from a previous landlord or a good rental payment history could show that you can afford the rent even your rent-to-income ratio would be higher than the landlord thinks is acceptable.
The Ontario Human Rights Code is the law that says landlords cannot discriminate against people who are trying to rent a place to live.
Landlords are not allowed to ask questions that could be used to discriminate against you. They are also not allowed to demand Canadian references or use rent-to-income ratios in ways that discriminate against certain groups of people.
If the landlord is doing any of these things, you might be able to convince them to follow the Human Rights Code. You can try explaining the law to them, or getting someone to help you deal with them.
You could show the landlord information about the Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has information written for landlords. The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) has many publications that explain the law about different types of discrimination in housing.
It might help to get someone to contact the landlord on your behalf. CERA or the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) might be able to do this.
Keep copies of your rental application and any communications you have with the landlord. Make notes about your conversations with the landlord and anything else that happens. Ask a friend or someone else to go with you when you meet or speak with the landlord. That person can be a witness to what happened or what was said.
If you still want that landlord to rent the place to you, you should take action as soon as possible, preferably before they rent it to someone else.
If you think a landlord has discriminated against you, you can apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario within 1 year after it happened.
If you need help filing an application, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre can help you understand the process.
The Tribunal is like a court, but less formal. First it will try to get both sides to make an agreement about how to settle the case. If there is no agreement, the Tribunal will hold a hearing to decide the case. At the hearing, a Tribunal member will listen to evidence and legal arguments from both sides.
After holding a hearing, the Tribunal can make different kinds of orders. For example, it could order the landlord to rent to you. Or it could order the landlord to change their policies about tenant selection, or take an educational course about discrimination.
The Tribunal could order the landlord to pay you money to compensate you for not respecting your human rights.