What information can landlords require from potential tenants?
Landlords use the information on an application to rent premises to decide if an applicant is likely to be a responsible tenant. If the questions on the application are not discriminatory based on the protected grounds, then they satisfy human rights legislation. However, other questions that do not directly show discrimination could demonstrate an intent to discriminate. For instance, asking the age of a parent's child could indicate an intent to discriminate based on family status.
The following is a discussion of some of the information a landlord should and should not request from a potential tenant.
Source of income versus level of income
Denying tenancy or enforcing a term or condition on a tenant because of the person's source of income is discrimination. For further information, see the Alberta Human Rights Commission information sheet Source of Income.
Landlords can ask potential tenants for information on the amount of income they make. This can be used as one of the factors in deciding whether to rent to a tenant. However, a landlord should not ask about the source of the income. Courts and human rights tribunals have found discrimination based on source of income where a landlord:
- raises the rent to a level that is no longer covered by a rental subsidy; and
- ceases to apply for a rental subsidy;
Courts and human rights tribunals have found discrimination based on source of income when the landlord refuses to rent to a tenant who is receiving:
- income supports;
- rental subsidies;
- AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped); or
- other disability benefits.
Landlords should also be cautious about refusing people because they have no rental history. Certain groups, such as people who live on social assistance, have immigrated to Canada, or are on assisted income programs, may not have a rental history. For instance, people who are on social assistance may previously not have been able to afford renting their own home. This does not mean that they have a bad rental history; it simply means that they have no rental history.
Some landlords have applied formulas, called rent-to-income ratios, to determine whether a tenant can afford a rental property. In these cases a landlord will refuse to rent to people who would have to spend more than a particular percentage, usually 20 to 35 percent, of their income on rent.
Courts have found that rent-to-income ratios unfairly disqualify groups based on race, gender, marital status, family status, place of origin, and source of income. These decisions have found that there is no evidence that a rent-to-income ratio is a reliable predictor that a person is likely to fail to pay their rent.
Credit checks and references
Landlords are permitted to ask for credit history and previous landlord references. However, landlords cannot use this information in a discriminatory fashion. For example, a person could make a human rights complaint against a landlord who only asks for credit information from a particular ethnic group.
It is also important to note that tenants such as people who are new immigrants could have no rental history because they lack Canadian references. Ruling out these tenancies based on this fact alone could amount to discrimination.
Landlords may also request a co-signor or guarantor from a potential tenant. However they must be cautious not to require all people from a particular group, such as those on social assistance, to have co-signors. If a tenant has a poor credit history or bad references, the landlord may decide to ask for a co-signor.
For more information, see these pages:
A discussion of protected grounds in the area of tenancy
Duty to accommodate
Revised: March 9, 2010