Scenario:

When Lukie was 16, she moved out of her mother’s home, where she had been experiencing abuse.  While she spent a couple of months staying with her friend Brian’s family, she was soon ready to move out on her own, and she began looking for a place.  Lukie qualified to receive Ontario Works, which is social assistance that can be available to youth in special circumstances, and she has now begun to receive monthly cheques.  She is also looking for work. (Check out our earlier post about leaving home here.)
What important things should Lukie know when she looks for a place?  Can a landlord refuse to rent to Lukie because she is only 16, or because she is receiving money from Ontario Works?
Protection against discrimination in housing: Ontario’s Human Rights Code
Ontario’s Human Rights Code is a law that makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual based on certain grounds.  In plainer language, this means that in certain areas (like housing, or education), a person cannot be refused services or treated badly just because of certain characteristics relating to their identity.  These characteristics, or “grounds” include things like age, race, and disability.
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When Lukie is searching for a place to live, she is protected against discrimination by the Code.  Usually, the Code only applies to people who are 18 or older.  However, in the case of housing, it also extends to people who are 16 or older and who are not living with their parents.  This means that landlords can’t treat her application differently or refuse to rent to her because she’s too young, and they think she’ll be too noisy or not clean enough because of her age.  The Code also forbids landlords from treating tenants or potential tenants differently because they are on social assistance, like Ontario Works.

The landlord is allowed to ask Lukie some questions in order to decide if she will be a good tenant, like her rental history or credit references.  However, the fact that Lukie has no rental history shouldn’t count against her.  Rent-to-income ratios (how much the rent is compared to how much Lukie earns each month) cannot be used to decide whether Lukie will be accepted as a tenant.  The landlord can also ask for a guarantor on Lukie’s lease.  This is a person who promises to pay the rent if Lukie can’t afford it.  However, the landlord can only ask for a guarantor if they ask all of their tenants for one – they can’t single out Lukie because of her age or how much money she makes.
Once Lukie has rented an apartment, she is also protected by the Code.  The landlord can’t refuse to do repairs and can’t treat her unfairly just because she is young.  The only exception to this is that the Code doesn’t apply to tenants who are sharing a kitchen or a bathroom with the landlord – Lukie should watch out for this when she is looking for a place.
To learn more about Human Rights and Rental Housing, check out the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s ELearning module.
Legal Protection of Tenants: the Residential Tenancies Act
In addition to human rights protection, when Lukie rents an apartment, she will become a tenant.  Tenants are protected by a law called the Residential Tenancies Act.  This Act contains rules about what rights and responsibilities both landlords and tenants have in relation to rental units (like apartments).  These rules can become very important to Lukie if, for example, she has a major repair problem in her apartment and the landlord refuses to fix it, or if the landlord is trying to raise the rent more than once a year.
Most rental units are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act.  However, some are not.  When Lukie is looking for a unit, she should think about whether her unit is covered by the Act.  Places that aren’t covered by the Act include co-op housing, units where the landlord and tenant share a bathroom or kitchen and temporary housing like motels or bed & breakfasts.  If Lukie sublets an apartment, which means that she rents it from another tenant, her relationship will be with the other tenant and not with the original landlord.  This could make her protection under the Act more complicated.  If Lukie moves into non-profit or public housing, or to a newer building (built after 1998, or not used for residential purposes before 1991), some of the rules in the Act about rent do not apply to her.
To learn more about the Residential Tenancies Act, check out this information from the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).  To learn more about the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, read their Information for New Tenants.  You can also learn more about rental housing from this guide by CLEO.

This blog post was written by JFCY volunteer Leora Jackson.  Leora is a UofT law student who is currently working for the summer at Downtown Legal Services, where she represents clients in cases involving rental housing legal issues.