October 8, 2009

Apartment block owner ordered to remove restrictions

Adjudicator M. Lynne Harrison has ruled that a Brandon apartment block management company discriminated against a woman by restricting families with children to main floor apartments. She ordered that Martin-Liberty Realty Ltd. remove the restriction from its standard lease of the Amberwood Village and pay Wendy Hiebert $1,000.00 for damages.

Ms Hiebert, who had a five year old child, tried to rent an advertised apartment in Brandon in 2007 but was informed that although the management company allows children, it is its policy to keep them on the main floor citing noise and safety concerns. No ground floor apartments were available at that time.

Ms Hiebert filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission stating that she was being discriminated against on the grounds of family status. After an investigation, the Manitoba Human Rights Board of Commissioners asked that the Government appoint an independent adjudicator to hear the case.

In her decision Adjudicator Harrison wrote that the rule restricting families with children to the main floor of an apartment building is “based on impressionistic assumptions” and that there was no data showing that all children are likely to make noise. She also found that the evidence did not support that safety was a motivating factor in adopting the main floor only rule.

Adjudicator Harrison also noted that there are other ways to ensure that renters, including children, will not be excessively noisy, such as requesting references. The Commission’s evidence showed that other apartment block owners, including the one where Ms Hiebert lived with her daughter at the time of the hearing, allowed children to live on upper floors.

"Landlords, rental agencies and management companies have responsibilities to existing and potential tenants," says the Commission's Executive Director Dianna Scarth, adding "these decisions bring attention to human rights protections, but a more proactive approach is education to ensure that The Code is not contravened in the area of housing in the first place." Ms Scarth says that the Commission has just published guidelines, designed to assist landlords as well as tenants.

The just released guidelines You can support human rights in rental housing – your rights and obligations deal with such topics as what The Human Rights Code says about discrimination in rental housing, who is legally responsible for discrimination and what is involved in reasonably accommodating the special needs of a tenant.

The Guidelines also contain a sample protection from discrimination and harassment policy and a checklist for landlords when considering an application for tenancy.

You can support human rights in rental housing is available in print and on the Commission’s website www.manitobahumanrights.ca.

The Hiebert v Martin-Liberty Realty Ltd decision is also available on the website.

For more information, please contact:

Patricia Knipe
Communications Director
Manitoba Human Rights Commission