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Law Talk: Human rights in Ontario: Housing

Community Legal Services | Pro Bono Students Canada (UWO) | Lifestyles | December 1st, 2014



In Canada, both provincial and federal regulations are in place to ensure that everyone has the right to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination. The importance of freedom from discrimination has been recognized as essential to promoting human dignity.

What regulates the protection of human rights in Ontario?

While the Canadian Human Rights Act requires that federally regulated businesses – for example banks or post offices – ensure they do not discriminate, the protection and promotion of human rights provincially falls under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Code governs all interactions between individuals and ensures that no one is discriminated against on the basis of a protected ground.

How does the protection of human rights impact housing?

The Code stipulates that every person has a right to equal treatment in relation to their housing – or occupancy of accommodation – free of discrimination because of protected individual characteristics. The protected characteristics are as follows: race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability or the receipt of public assistance.

In Ontario, a complaint in relation to housing may only be filed by someone 18 years of age or older, unless the applicant is over 16 and has legally withdrawn from their parents’ control.

Every person who occupies a residential unit has a right not to be harassed by his/her landlord, the landlord’s agent or by another occupant because he/she has a protected characteristic. Harassment is when one engages in conduct or commentary that they know or ought to have reasonably known would disturb another person. Typically the harassment must reflect a pattern of behaviour. A tenant who is gay or lesbian or bisexual should live without fear that his/her landlord will use derogatory terms when addressing him/her.

In order to avoid violating an individual’s human rights, a landlord must accommodate the occupant to the point of undue hardship with respect to the associated costs and health and safety requirements. A landlord may not be required to remove one tenant so that a disabled occupant can have their unit because that would be too costly, however they may be required to ensure that the unit occupied by the disabled tenant is wheelchair accessible.

Are there situations where the Code does not apply?

There are some situations where the landlord may take what appear to be discriminatory actions under the Code. A female homeowner may refuse to rent a bedroom in her home to a man without violating the Code. Nor is the Code violated if the residence is a single sex occupancy building.

For more information on human rights law in Ontario, please visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission website at ohrc.on.ca and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal website at hrto.ca.

This column is brought to you by Community Legal Services at Western University. It provides legal information only. The information is accurate as of the date of publication. If you need specific legal advice please contact a lawyer, your community legal clinic, Justice Net at 1-866-919-3219 or the Law Society Referral Service at 1-800- 268-8326.
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