Media Resource: Questions & Answers – Housing For Refugees

(December 23, 2015)

  1. Are you saying the law prevents housing providers to rent to refugees?

We’re pointing out that renting a house or apartment in Ontario is a complex transaction in a heavily regulated environment. It was not created for, and is not well-equipped to, facilitate the fast, mass resettlement of an unprecedented quantity of refugees at a pace not previously seen.

Renting in Ontario is a long-term business transaction, but not a simple one. Tenants have many rights and housing providers have many obligations. They are spelled out in the Human Rights Code as well as the Residential Tenancies Act and governed in a complex manner with a dedicated adjudication system.

 

 

  1. Sounds complicated, but it doesn’t prevent housing providers from renting to refugees, does it?

No, it doesn’t. In fact, renting to refugees is not at all new our members. 26,000 refugees come to Canada annually; a large number end up in Ontario and a large number of those find quality rental housing with our members who are happy to support their new customers in resettlement.

Indeed, some housing providers made early announcements of support for the influx of Syrian refugees expected with offers of discounted rentals or dedicated allocations of units when they arrive here.

 

  1. So why is the regulatory environment important?

Renting is a business transaction, regulated by laws and adjudicated by the Landlord and Tenant Board, for which not all parties supporting a refugee tenancy may have standing.

In Ontario, if you’re looking to rent housing, the housing provider is bound by the laws of the Human Rights Code and the Residential Tenancies Act. That means:

  • Housing providers must ensure a tenant screening process that is fair, diligent and complies with all the legal requirements
  • Housing providers must strictly and equally apply the application process for all new prospective renters, regardless of their residency status
  • Housing providers cannot impose different criteria to assess newcomer applications; they are required to request the same credit history, employment history and income information of refugees that is requested of all rental applicants
  • This is not the policy of any one housing provider; it is the law in the province of Ontario

 

 

  1. Couldn’t a housing provider choose to waive all that?

A housing provider cannot waive the requirements for one group potential tenants – the Residential Tenancies Act and the Human Rights Code requires housing providers to follow consistent processes when reviewing and evaluating each rental application.

These are private businesses. For example, if you are buying anything on layaway or were leasing a car, a service provider would seek to reassure themselves that you could cover the costs of the transaction before committing to let you use the services and not be able to offer them to someone else. Renting is a business – therefore, it is not unreasonable to have surety that a prospective tenant can pay the rent. After all, if the housing provider cannot collect the rent it is owed, it won’t be able to keep their doors open to provide homes for the tenants in the building.

 

 

  1. What about guarantors?

Guarantors can be very helpful to refugee tenants. They should also know their rights and obligations under Ontario’s regulatory regime, for example, if they ‘co-sign’ for a tenant, they act as a guarantor for the duration of the tenancy itself, not just the term of the initial lease. This is not a policy set by individual housing providers—this is prescribed in the Residential Tenancy Act.

 

  1. So why do you think the system not well-equipped for the Syrian refugees that will seek to live in Ontario?

Housing providers know that a refugee, fleeing a war-torn country in crisis, is not likely to have a credit or income history nor be able to provide employment details in the early days and months of resettlement. Our members understand the frustration with the situation but housing providers can’t skirt the law, they can’t set aside some requirements in the reasonable name of goodwill – the current law doesn’t give them that leeway.

It’s important to know, however, that the provincial government could respond to the need to deal with special circumstances such as the influx of a huge number of refugees, through regulation. FRPO continues to be willing to work with the Ontario government to identify ways to make it easier for rental housing providers to assist refugee families in securing needed rental housing. We believe the advice we offered in October and November remains valuable and worthy of the government’s consideration.

 

 

  1. What can be done?

The current legal regime around rental housing is not sufficient for the unprecedented influx of Syrian refugees – in the number, and at the pace they’re arriving. This unusual and unprecedented situation demands an exception to some of the current rules that will facilitate their speedy accommodation and encourage community re-settlement.

The provincial government has the power (the regulatory authority) to fix it. FRPO has provided our best advice to the provincial government on how they can use existing regulatory authority to expand the number of options housing providers would have to meet both the short term and longer term needs of Syrian refugee families. We hope they will make these positive changes and in the meantime, we will continue to provide support, resources, advice and information to our members as well as to supporting associations and stakeholders.

 

 

  1. What do you think of landlords that are refusing to rent to refugees?

Firstly, they’re breaking the law. If there’s a housing provider out there refusing to rent to a refugee because they are a refugee, that’s illegal. FRPO will not support the action of any housing provider that discriminates against any applicant based on race, religious background, or any other social determinant.

The more than 2,200 housing providers that we work with, that manage more than 350,000 rental units in Ontario, are hardworking business people, who are doing what they can, when and where they can to provide support, just like many, many other Ontarians and Canadians across the country. To remain in compliance with the law, they have to provide that support within the legal regime that exists today.