Last February we moved into a rental house. I specifically asked at the time whether this was a long-term rental, and whether the house would be re-appropriated for other use. I was told no, the house was just an income property. On June 12th I got a notice telling me we had to be out by July 31st (which is illegal) so that the owner’s child could move in.
I must have applied for about 20 houses, and each time I was shut down. While I make more than enough money to cover the rent, own a house in another town, and was able to secure a mortgage for it, being accepted as a tenant as a single Mom with one source of income was impossible. I didn’t want to leave our neighbourhood, because it’s so amazing; we have an awesome community association, there are all kinds of free events put on throughout the year in the neighbourhood, and the community is amazing. You couldn’t pay me to willingly leave this neighbourhood. I had to pool all the resources I could to find a house in this neighbourhood, and I did find one through a friend, but it was so stressful; filling out all those applications, providing way more paperwork than is legal to ask for, and never heard back from about 95% of the homes I applied to rent. It wasn’t until I spoke with my realtor that I discovered why it was so hard to secure a new home – landlords don’t like single Moms.
Regardless of income, and income source, landlords are discriminating against single Moms in favour of couples, even when one partner isn’t working. Two of the rentals that I applied for were rented to people I know, and both were couples with kids who had one parent at home. Despite a glowing letter of reference from my landlord, and loads of other great references, and a co-signer, I just couldn’t convince landlords that I was ‘worthy’ of being a tenant. One landlord agreed to rent to me, and the day I was to sign the lease she called and said that they rented it to ‘someone else.’ She said they felt as a single Mom that I wouldn’t be able to make the rent payments.
Yes, a landlord has the right to screen potential renters, but when that renter makes more than enough for a rental, and has excellent references, there’s no reason to discriminate. Demanding copies of my bank statements for two years, my income tax returns, my proof of income, a criminal record check, my separation agreement, and other outrageous requests cost me a great deal of time and resources to assemble for each application, each requiring more paperwork than the last. While asking for more than simple proof of income is illegal, if you want the house, you are going to have to provide anything and everything that landlords ask for (one even asked for my resumé and letters of reference from my previous employers!).
If you’re a single Mom having a hard time finding a rental, here are some tips that worked for me:
-use a real estate agent to help you find a house. Landlords are often easier to deal with through a realtor because realtors will make sure they follow the letter of the law in terms of what documents they ask for, and in terms of advocacy. If you have a realtor that you have a good relationship with, and have done business with before, this can also help, as they often have clients trying to rent out properties as well, and if they don’t, they often have connections.
-try houses that are using realtors or rental agencies to rent through, so you don’t have to deal directly with the landlord; often it’s just better not to know the landlord, and let their agents handle the rental, as they also know the laws.
-avoid anyone who is listing rules that are illegal, such as ‘no pets,’ ‘damage deposit required’ (this is illegal), criminal record check required, and those asking for bank statements when you’ve already provided proof of income, and anyone asking for other supporting documents (such as a resumé). Chances are you won’t get the rental, and if you do, and you move in, you’re likely to have problems with your landlord. If they’re willing to break the law to rent their property, how can you trust them? If there is an issue after you move in, many landlords who demand these items are very picky, and they will be just as picky with the house, and how you treat it while you’re living there; for example, if you get a pet after you move into a ‘no pets’ house, you may find yourself being evicted because ‘one of their children is moving in.’
-Know your rights. I was served with notice to move out on June 12th, to be out by the 31st of July. Legally, they have to give you two full months from the start of the lease period (so if you pay rent on the 1st, they have to at least serve you on the last day of the month, to move out 60 days later). They also have to file this with the Landlord/Tenant office. If they haven’t done both, then you don’t have to move. Even if they do file the form, they also have to give you your last month’s rent, and another month’s rent for the inconvenience. In my case, they did neither. Secondarily, a new law has been passed that states that if someone files an N12 (form to have a family member move in) and that family member does not move in, or doesn’t stay FOR A YEAR at the address, they can be susceptible to a $25,000 fine, and may have to pay the difference in your rent for as long as you live at the new address. In my case, rent jumped about $300 in this neighbourhood this year, and it’s very likely that no family member will be moving in. If you’ve had to move because of an N12, keep an eye on the real estate market and check weekly to see if the house you were in goes up for rent. Kijiji, Point2Homes, and the mls listings are all sites to check to see if it goes up for rent. If you do see it up for rent, contact the landlord-tenant board immediately to let them know the situation.
-If you know you’ve been discriminated against, you should go to the human rights tribunal and lodge a complaint. Discrimination includes ‘no pets’ if you have a service dog, an ad that’s worded ‘for a professional couple’ or ‘for professionals’ is telling you they won’t accept anyone on any kind of support (disability, welfare, unemployment). The wording of the ad itself is enough to get a landlord in trouble. If they are demanding illegal paperwork (i.e. more than proof of income) you can also contact the tribunal and lodge a complaint, as this is ‘pre-discrimination’ – they are actively discriminating by saying ‘professional’ in their ad because the message is that you are not welcome if you are on any kind of support.
The bottom line is, landlords are getting to be more and more unreasonable and demanding, with some even asking to visit you where you currently live before accepting an application. While a landlord has a right to have a say as to who moves in, with good references, credit, and a co-signer, they have no legal grounds to discriminate against you. With discrimination getting worse and worse, we need to take a stand and bring these landlords to the attention of the human rights tribunal and send a message – that tenants aren’t going to put up with this kind of discrimination, and there WILL be consequences for those breaking the law.