Access to Rental Accommodations

Sep 05, 2019

Intake staff at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission regularly receive inquiries from the public concerning access to rental accommodations. What can you do if you have been discriminated against? The following information is intended to prepare renters in case they encounter discrimination.

Common examples of discriminatory practices

Some of the most common issues brought to us are from an individual seeking a rental who is turned down when:

  • A landlord indicates that the house they have advertised for rent is not available to individuals with children, same-sex couples, members of the 2SLGBTQI community, an immigrant or member of a specific religious group, etc.
  • A landlord says the apartment building they are advertising availability in is exclusively for the use of residents 55+ despite there being no clear evidence that facilities include specific services intended to serve this segment of the population.
  • A landlord refuses to rent their unit to an individual who indicates their source of income is from: Income Assistance, a student loan, Employment Insurance (EI) or other benefits.

To discriminate means to treat someone different from another person because of their race, sexual orientation, etc., in a way that creates a burden for that person.  This is against the law.  Sometimes, landlords will rent to someone with a protected characteristic but then treat them differently.  They might make them pay their rent in advance or pay a larger damage deposit.  This is illegal, too.

How does the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act protect renters’ rights?

Under the Human Rights Act, it may be a violation if someone is denied tenancy due to their disability, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, family status, marital status, source of income or any other of the protected characteristics listing in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

If someone feels they were treated differently due to a protected characteristic, they are encouraged to contact the Commission and a Human Rights Officer can assess whether their issue falls within our jurisdiction. This could include being: denied a rental property, charged a higher rent amount or security deposit, required to make additional payments, refused reasonable repairs etc. 

Through a complaint and our dispute resolution process, Human Rights Officers work with parties to help them resolve their dispute using restorative approaches.  Education through presentations, workshops or other means of training can be used to help parties gain an understanding of the situation and how it has impacted others.

What does “duty to accommodate” mean in the context of rental housing?

A landlord’s duty to accommodate is based on medical requirements of the individual [tenant]. This could be a medical requirement for a handle bar in the bathtub, or even a flat entrance to the building for access. The medical requirement is defined by a medical professional and the property management would have the duty to accommodate the request.

Tips for dispute resolution

  • Have an open conversation. Often there is a miscommunication and having both sides listening to each other can often resolve the dispute on its own.
  • Be respectful and clearly communicate your views.
  • Listen carefully to one another and ask clear questions.

If the dispute cannot be resolved between the parties it may be appropriate to call us to assess the situation. If possible, we will try to refer individuals to appropriate resources in the community, such as the Residential Tenancies Program, the Legal Information Society, College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Office of Police Complaints Commissioner.

When to contact the Commission

Anytime. We are available to speak with landlords or tenants to discuss issues related to any of the above information or otherwise related to human rights and access to accommodations. In-person, email or phone conversations can be informal and for information only.

Part of our intake process is having these conversations and making an assessment for jurisdiction. We want to know, who was involved and what happened with a clear timeline including the last date of the incident. Our intake staff are trained to make their assessment of the situation by asking the necessary questions to gain all the information they need.