Brampton Landlord Rejects Interracial Couple For Not Being White

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Although racism and discrimination can occur anywhere, it's always shocking to see it so close to home—especially in one of the country's most multicultural cities.

Recently, interracial couple Michael and Ashley Friginette told CityNews that they saw an ad for a well-priced Brampton townhouse on Kijiji and reached out to the landlord to find out more.

According to CityNews, the Friginette's thought the home would be perfect for them and their three children.

Unfortunately, the well-priced home was no longer an option once the landlord learned that Michael (who is black) was not white.

I got a response back asking what my nationality was and that I have to be white. That kind of hit me by surprise and I was stunned," Michael told the news outlet. "I couldn't believe it."

According to City, Ashley contacted the landlord about the unit and the woman wrote:

"Can you tell me how many people to rent and your nationality of all and must be white. Thanks, Franca."

While both Michael and Ashley said that the situation was shocking and incredibly hurtful, it's important to note that landlords cannot legally discriminate against tenants based on race, ethnicity or any other immutable characteristic.

Last year, discussions around discriminatory renting practices reached a fever pitch when a Mississauga landlord posted—and then apologized for—a blatantly racist Kijiji ad that asked that black men avoid applying for his basement suite.

After news about the ad broke, some lawyers weighed in and declared that the landlord acted in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code. This code applies even in cases where tenants are not protected under the Residential Tenancies Act (such as when a tenant is sharing a kitchen or bathroom with a landlord, which was not likely the situation the Friginette's were going to find themselves in to begin with).

When a person is occupying a space they don’t own but are paying for, the law that governs that relationship is the Residential Tenancies Act," says Rhyan Ahmed, barrister and solicitor (partner) at KPA Lawyers Professional Corporation. "The vast majority of residential renters in Ontario are protected by the Act and have rights as tenants. Discrimination is in the Human Rights Code of Ontario ad the Act requires landlords to obey the Human Rights Code. For example, Section 10 of the Act permits landlords to use income information, credit checks, credit references, rental history, and other similar factors in selecting prospective tenants, and use of such information must be in the manner that complies with the Human Rights Code."

So, can a landlord renting out a home (or even just space in their privately owned home) ever request that tenants boast a specific nationality or even gender?

The short answer is no.

In general, a landlord cannot discriminate on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability or the receipt of public assistance," says Ahmed. "All of the examples would be considered an unlawful violation unless specifically justified by law.”

At a time where rental units are scarce and expensive (for the past few months, bidding wars on rental homes and apartments have not been uncommon in Toronto and surrounding cities), some landlords may feel more entitled to enforce stringent—and in this case, discriminatory—criteria for prospective tenants.

For that reason, it's important for tenants who are refused accommodation on the basis of their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation to remember that the law is on their side.

If tenants who believe they're victims of discrimination do not want to challenge a landlord in court, they can also call upon the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation for help.

"We live in Brampton, the most multicultural city and we've never had that happen here, but we've heard of it happening all the time," Ashley told City. "When it happens to you, it's a completely different feeling."

Michael added that, if he could talk to the landlord directly, he would emphasize the hurtfulness of her response.

"If I could meet her, I would say 'don't do that people, it's not right. It hurts. It really hurts people.'"  

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