Monday, October 5, 2009

Human Rights Commission Policy Guideline will Devastate Small Landlords

This morning, HRC Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall addressed stakeholders and the media in order to introduce the Commission’s new Policy Guideline on Rental Housing in Ontario.

To this point, there had not been a guideline tailored to rental housing, but stakeholders, advocates and adjudicators often took their cues from other materials that were more related to discrimination in an employment context. Starting today, finders of fact at all courts and tribunals will be bound to follow the new policy guideline when considering cases where discrimination is alleged, or the need for accommodation pleaded in a rental housing context. This will include eviction proceedings at the Landlord and Tenant Board which is already under-resourced causing delays prejudicing small landlords. Landlords will have to take notice of the guideline and ensure that their policies, both pre-tenancy and during the tenancy comply with the Code. Landlords must check leases and just as important, rental applications to ensure that they do not ask anything that could later be misconstrued as being discriminatory, or having the potential to have a discriminatory effect.

Nobody can argue against Human Rights in housing. It’s a motherhood issue. But most don’t understand the argument. The vast majority think that discrimination in housing means that a marginalized person was refused accommodation because of income, race, family status, age, a disability etc. Or perhaps a landlord wouldn’t install a ramp or other assistive device to accommodate their disability. And they would be right. But the danger of this new document is that it hides obligations for in-place tenants behind the basic protections that should be obvious.

A fatal flaw in the policy guideline is that it makes no distinction between obligations for small landlords, renting out their basement or a single investment property, “including a condominium”, and those professional landlords with the staff, training, resources and economies of scale to achieve compliance with the Code. Small landlords will be turned into social workers under the new guidelines, with obligations for connecting those with mental health issues to appropriate support services, creating an accommodation plan with the tenant, modifying their tenancy practices to the point of near insolvency, and having the burden of proving to a court or tribunal that the tenant’s requested accommodation imposes an undue hardship on them. And all this need be done, according to the guideline, before a landlord should even consider an eviction application, whether about rent or dangerous conduct.

For small landlords, most of who don’t know they have obligations under the Code, the Policy Guideline will be a shocking read. Ontario has embarked on a 30 year commitment to de-institutionalize those with mental health problems, and has instead focused on community living. Of course governments of all stripes have provided almost no money to house those who need support services, and as a result, the problem of homelessness and under-housing of those with physical and mental health issues has now reached crisis proportions.

This policy guideline represents the last piece of the puzzle. Without explicitly saying so, the commission (the government, although some will argue otherwise) will mandate that instead of the taxpayer being responsible for those vulnerable persons who need our support, the burden will fall to landlords. Instead of making housing a ballot question, the Government hides being the Code and now this new Policy Guideline. Instead of building more social housing, and in particular providing funds for alternative, transitional and supportive housing, the government washes its hands of those most needing its help, and is saying:

Here landlords, now you deal with what used to be a larger societal problem. You will need to accommodate the tenants' disabilities to the point of your insolvency, you will need to modify your dwellings, you can't evict problem tenants despite dangerous or unreasonable conditions occurring, even if you live in the same house, and we (the government) won't be there to provide help or financial support.

All for the $600 a month the small landlord receives from the typical basement apartment.

Small landlords, this is the time to divest yourself of all rental properties in Ontario. Invest in mortgages, bonds, anything but rental housing in Ontario. Despite the low interest rates and suggestions by your local Realtor, you do NOT want to be a landlord in Ontario after today’s announcement.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Harry. My husband and I are small landlords and our existing tenant will be leaving in December. We've decided to get out of the rental business and it looks like it was just in time!

We had heard about these developments many months ago through Landlord Self-Help in Toronto. We both agreed that if these recommendations were approved we could no longer safely remain landlords.

I fear that the result of these new rules and guidelines will be a dramatic reduction in the number of apartments available in Ontario as smart landlords and investors get out of the business to protect themselves from expensive and stressful lawsuits. Even a well-meaning, small landlord could easily become embroiled in a legal nightmare.

We're already looking for alternative investments.

Best Wishes,

Anonymous said...

landlords have very restrictive "rights" compared to tenants
I am an 83 year old "Landlord" I thought buying rental property would a good choice, "WRONG" Welfare seems the 'Better Way'all a tenant has to do is pick the phone, call her local "Legall aid' office and they jump to attention within the hour