Some property management companies in Windsor-Essex advertise rental properties by marketing them specifically to students even though the Ontario Human Rights Commission makes clear that language which shows a landlord's preference for some people over others should not be used in a rental advertisement.
Danielle Gilliard spent months trying to find a place to rent, calling the search "frustrating." She found herself scrolling through multiple rental advertisements, including ones by property management companies.
She says if those companies were to stop allowing student-preferential language to be posted in rental advertisements, it may influence individual landlords from doing the same — eliminating any hesitancy that non-students may have from renting out whatever home or unit they like.
"It discourages you because you're looking for a home for your family — and these people are looking for students."
The mother of four said that on multiple occasions, she would be discouraged from applying to rent certain properties since many of them contained language like "great for students."
"It makes you feel almost belittled in a way," said Gilliard, who receives government assistance. "I've been denied because I'm not a student and I'm thinking — I have a guaranteed income every month."
The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that indicating a rental unit as being "great" or "perfect for students" is the wrong way of writing a rental advertisement since this wording suggests that "the landlord prefers some people over others.,"
There's a bit of a grey area and the issue is more about what happens after the advertisement. Students aren't listed as a ground under the Ontario human rights code, meaning that distinguishing between students and non-students in a rental advertisement isn't directly prohibited by the code as long as no subsequent discrimination takes place.
But problems can lie with the wording of the ad itself. That's according to Matthew Horner, a senior lawyer with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who says marketing rentals to students can be deemed "contrary to the code" if a family — or other code-protected groups — can demonstrate they have been pushed out of the opportunity to rent a desired unit.
"If it turns out that you don't rent to families, you don't rent potentially to racialized people, you don't rent to anybody with a disability, then that would raise the concern of ... [the] seemingly-neutral rule of renting to students, in fact, having an effect on on other code-protected groups."
Moreover, if a rental advertisement indicates an "intention to only rent to students," the party responsible for posting the ad runs the risk of having a claim to the human rights tribunal brought against them.
"[They could] argue that what you are effectively doing is excluding other groups ... and thereby discriminating against them," he said.
Company pegs student-preferential language on 'transparency'
CBC News reached out to three property management companies in Windsor operating websites which contain student-preferential rental advertisements. Property Hunters refused to comment and Maximum Property Solutions did not respond to email requests.
Marda Management, however, did agree to speak with CBC News. When asked if she's aware that the use of student-preferential language in rental advertisements is discouraged by the human rights commission, company CEO Marla Coffin said "we welcome 100 per cent of clientele in 100 per cent of our units."
"We absolutely do not discriminate and we are grateful and welcome any and all clientele across the board to all of our units, because our number one goal is to find a great home for each and every individual that looks to live within our system while simultaneously working diligently to achieve the goals of our property owners, which is to avoid vacancies," she said.
Coffin pointed to "transparency" regarding the presence of ads for "student rentals" and "student rooms" on Marda Management's website, adding it's all about "being honest and open about the clientele" with whom renters may share space.
"We do try to be clear with people about what an ideal clientele can be," said Coffin, adding rentals that are advertised as "great for students" don't necessarily mean that they're "only for students."
Coffin said she has not received feedback to suggest that non-students have been discouraged about inquiring about a house on Marda's website that's been marketed to students.
She added her company would never deny housing to a non-student who could afford to rent a room or home — even if an advertisement indicated preference toward students.
Gilliard says whenever she came across a home described as a "student rental," it usually meant there was no way her family would be able to occupy it. She recalled one instance when she attended a home to inquire about renting it only to find out that the bottom floor was already being occupied by students.
It discourages you because you're looking for a home for your family — and these people are looking for students." - Danielle Gilliard
Gilliard finally secured a place to rent after eight months of searching.