COMMENTARY: Know your rights: Yukon’s anti-discrimination laws in housing

Luke Faught

Special to the News

For three reasons, now is an extremely important time for hopeful tenants and landlords in Yukon to know where their rights and obligations begin and end in seeking and offering rental housing:

  • Discussions on discrimination are dominating international, national and local media.
  • The perception of housing discrimination is a hot topic in the Yukon. One recent post in the “Whitehorse Rants and Raves” Facebook group expressing frustration at perceived discrimination because the poster was on social assistance generated 77 comments as of Aug. 11, some of which were sympathetic to the poster’s plight and others which were not.
  • It is a notorious fact that current demand for rental housing in the Yukon is much higher than the available supply. This may have bred the unfortunate practice of people who are seeking housing online including photos of themselves along with their housing requests, which may breed discrimination on many grounds including race, sex, and age, as discussed further below.

This article discusses the scope of Yukon’s anti-discrimination laws and what you should do if you believe you have been the victim of discrimination in trying to obtain rental housing.

How does the law define discrimination in housing?

Discrimination is defined as treating any individual or group unfavourably on any of the fourteen grounds set out in s. 7 of Yukon’s Human Rights Act, including: source of income; colour, race, or national origin; language; family or marital status; religion; age; sex and sexual orientation; gender identity and expression; and disability.

Discrimination in offering rental housing is forbidden by s. 9 of the act which states “no person shall discriminate in connection with any aspect of the occupancy, possession, lease, or sale of property offered to the public.”

The desired effect of the law is to neutralize stereotypes that are commonly held in relation to offering rental housing, including but unfortunately not limited to:

  • Men are messier tenants than women;
  • Young people and certain races are more likely to cause damage to the rental unit;
  • Single women with children and/or people whose source of income is social assistance are unreliable in paying their rent.

Unfavourable treatment based on any other ground not specifically mentioned in s. 7 is not discrimination; for example, Yukon landlords may lawfully impose “no pets” conditions, unlike in Ontario, where such rules have no legal effect under its Residential Tenancies Act. However if you require a service animal for a physical or mental disability, it may not be considered a mere “pet” and being denied housing because you require one could amount to discrimination on the basis of disability.

Three situations that may include treating one of the protected groups listed in s. 7 of the act unfavourably are not considered illegal discrimination under s. 11 of the Act:

  1. A person offering rental housing in a part of the home that person lives in;
  2. A religious, charitable, educational, social, cultural, or athletic organization giving preference to its members or to people the organization exists to serve (for example, landlords operating housing owned by a church could treat applicants unfavourably on the basis they are not members of that church); and
  3. A landlord giving preference to members of their family.

What to do if you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination

The Yukon Human Rights Commission (YHRC) enforces the law against discrimination by investigating and resolving complaints. The process is started by contacting the commission to make a complaint. They will ask for details on when, where and how the discrimination took place, the reason for the discrimination, and any other information needed to investigate and assess the complaint.

Visit their helpful and informative website at yukonhumanrights.ca for their contact information and more details about the process.

Remedies

If the YHRC finds that your complaint is valid, it has powers to order the person who discriminated against you to:

  • stop the discrimination;
  • fix any condition that causes the discrimination (this could include giving you the housing you were initially denied);
  • pay you damages for any financial loss you suffered as a result of the discrimination;
  • pay you damages for injury to your dignity, feelings, or self-respect.

Luke Faught is a Whitehorse-based lawyer whose practice includes human rights.

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