Response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission Discussion paper on Human Rights and Family in Ontario

July 22nd, 2005

The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations (FMTA) is a non-profit Organization which advocates for better rights for Tenants.

Founded in 1974, we are the oldest and largest Tenant Federation in Canada. The FMTA is comprised of affiliated Tenant Associations and Individual Members.

The FMTA manages two major projects, both funded by the City of Toronto.

The Tenant Hotline is a free telephone counseling service operated by the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations. Our Hotline counselors offer information about legal rights to any tenant who calls. Hotline Counselors also provide tenants with meaningful referrals, if necessary, to community or City agencies, resources or legal clinics. We can also, upon request, mail or fax information relevant to the situation.

The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations also carries out Outreach and Organizing related to the Tenant Defence Fund. The City of Toronto created the Tenant Defence Fund to assist tenants who are disputing Above Guideline Increase (AGI) applications. The fund has two main parts: a Tenant Support Grant to provide financial assistance to tenant groups, and an Outreach and Organizing Team. The Outreach and Organizing Team provides assistance and support to tenants throughout the entire process of challenging an AGI, repairs and maintenance applications, starting a tenants' association, or learning about and asserting their rights as tenants.

Inadequate housing policies in Ontario have led to inadequate housing, and this may be a source of tension for tenants with children. At the FMTA, we believe that housing is a right, and ought to be considered by the Commission as fundamental.

Because the majority of our funding comes from the City of Toronto, we focus our services to those tenants who live in within the GTA. Therefore, our response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission Discussion paper on Human Rights and Family in Ontario is limited by geographical location and specific to tenants.

Q. What should the commission's policy be on issues related to noise?

The issue of children's noise comes up often on the Tenant Hotline, from both tenants with children, and those complaining about the noise of children. Hotline Counselors' response is that "kids have a right to run." In other words, in multi-residential situations, noise is bound to happen, and it is usually a part of tenant life.

We encourage families with children to try to find solutions to the situation with their landlords and neighbours to find certain noise reduction measures such as soundproofing, carpeting or relocation in the building. While the FMTA recognizes that noise can interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of tenants in a multi-residential situation, we are careful not to participate in tenant against tenant complaints. Part of our mandate is to prevent evictions, and we will absolutely not counsel a tenant to have another tenant evicted. It is our position that evictions should absolutely not be a method of controlling noise.

Q. Are there other ways in which discrimination against families with children is manifested in the housing market?

Families with older children - that is, teenagers - may find negative attitudes or stereotypes directed towards their children, especially children of colour, who are often seen as criminal, trouble-makers, etc. Landlords often make rules about loitering, or noise, to keep youth out of common areas of buildings.

While, on the one hand, noise and certain behaviour of youth may interfere with reasonable enjoyment of tenants in the building, on the other hand, young people are also tenants in the building, and have the right to the use of the common areas for common purposes.

One tenant we spoke to articulated her pleasure at discovering that the youth who hung out outside her building actually provided a security benefit - unwelcome strangers stayed away from what they perceived to be rowdy youth, and tenants who lived in the area were welcomed home with hellos.

At the FMTA, we encourage tenants to work together to find solutions to the issues that they face. Getting to know your neighbours is the best kind of security, and the best protection against unfair landlords. It is important to give youth the opportunity to feel included in the community that they reside in. The more young people feel that they are part of the community, the less threatened everyone feels.

Q. What types of accommodations for family status are appropriate in the housing context?

Children's safety is an issue that sometimes comes up on the Tenant Hotline. Where ever possible, it may be a good idea for Landlords to offer tenants with young children accommodation as close to the ground floor as possible. That being said, the lack of ground floor apartments should not be cause to refuse to rent to a family with young children. We merely want to suggest reasonable actions that individual landlords and tenants can take to accommodate specific needs of tenants. It is landlord's responsibility to accommodate differences between people in their living situations, and this includes the needs of families, concerning safety and reasonable enjoyment.

Q. How can the commission assist landlords in understanding and complying with their obligations under the Code?

Landlords in Ontario are unregulated and unlicensed. All one needs in order to become a landlord is some form of property investment. This kind of unregulated money-making means that landlords do not necessarily have to know that laws which they must adhere to, and the expectation is that landlords will act according to law because they are supposed to - even if acting according to the law interferes with a landlord's ability to make money.

It is clear that landlords ought to be monitored in some way by a government body to protect tenants and ensure that the law is adhered to.

Failing that, at minimum an education campaign should be launched to ensure that landlords at least understand their obligations under the law. We encourage the Commission to launch such a campaign and produce clear, plain language education materials for both tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities under the code. It is important that tenants understand their rights under the law, so that they can enforce them.

Another helpful forum for educating tenants and landlords (one which we are certainly familiar with!) is an information hotline for both tenants and landlords. We encourage the Commission to fund a hotline for landlords and tenants to answer any questions about their rights and obligations under the law.