Vancouver woman claims landlord cancelled apartment rental over disability income

·4 min read

A Vancouver woman is claiming in a complaint to B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal that a property management company acted in a discriminatory manner by denying her a rental apartment.

Shayfaye Baylis, 32, alleges that after paying a damage deposit for a $1,500-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver's Punjabi Market neighbourhood in July, Goodrich Realty cancelled the rental when staff learned she receives income assistance.

"I felt disheartened," Baylis said. "I've never gone through a process like this. Ever."

Baylis, a casual housing support worker for a non-profit organization, receives income assistance for her disability — rheumatoid arthritis and lupus — which sometimes keep her from working.

Ken Leedham
Ken Leedham

Baylis said in her complaint that under B.C. tenancy laws, once a landlord accepts a deposit, the tenancy is established.

Baylis alleged after she paid, Goodrich refused to sign her shelter information form, which she needs a landlord to sign when she changes addresses in order to keep receiving income assistance.

Baylis alleges Goodrich's property manager Donna Louie told her over the phone, "We've had nothing but bad experiences from people who need these forms filled out."

"At that point, I really felt she was making the decision based on that," Baylis said.

Days later, Baylis was declined as a tenant.

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant based on their lawful source of income income, including income assistance.

Ken Leedham
Ken Leedham

Baylis and her lawyer Grace McDonell have filed a complaint with B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal claiming discrimination, including on grounds of lawful source of income.

"It wasn't until she brought up that disability, brought up the fact that she needed financial assistance, that essentially led down the path of her being rejected," McDonell said.

The allegations have not been proven in court or tested by the tribunal. The tribunal will review Baylis's complaint to determine if it can proceed.

Back and forth

Baylis's complaint alleges over three days beginning July 19, she viewed the apartment, filled out an application and emailed Goodrich references and screenshots of her phone banking app showing deposits.

On July 22, Goodrich sent Baylis an email with rental terms and instructions to send $800 via e-transfer for the damage deposit and move-in fee.

Later that day, Baylis emailed Goodrich the shelter information form. Baylis and Louie spoke on the phone and Louie raised the issue of past tenants. On July 23, Baylis sent Goodrich an employment letter.

Ken Leedham
Ken Leedham

On the morning of July 24, Goodrich demanded proof of her employment income within four hours. Baylis said in her complaint she had already provided that.

On July 25, Goodrich emailed Baylis saying her application was denied because it lacked information. Goodrich refunded her $800 three days later.

"At no time prior to Ms. Baylis's request for a shelter information form signature, did Goodrich... indicate to Ms. Baylis that her application to rent the apartment was in any way incomplete," the complaint states.

"That financial questions were only posed once Ms. Baylis shared information about her disability and source of income is discriminatory. Her tenancy was rejected on that basis."

Company says renter at fault

Louie, in a phone interview, said Goodrich did nothing discriminatory and Baylis was declined because she would not disclose her employment income. Baylis denies that.

Louie did say she told Baylis they had problems with tenants using shelter forms.

"Consistency of employment income is what we are looking for," Louie said.

"We had bad experiences before with people who keep changing the shelter form and we just don't get the proper income."

Ken Leedham
Ken Leedham

Louie said she tried multiple times to get employment earnings information.

"You must give me the employment income," Louie said. "That's the number one most important thing in [an] application for rental because all the other income, one lump sum, can drop any time. We cannot count on that."

Louie said the company does accept tenants on income assistance, but with "precautions" and "special arrangements." The company did not provide details of such arrangements.

Tenancy complaints uncommon

Danielle Sabelli, a lawyer with the non-profit Community Legal Assistance Society who is not involved in the case, said the situation raises the issue of how discrimination can deny people housing options in Vancouver's already tight rental market.

Tenancy complaints only represented five percent of all tribunal complaints in 2018-19 but Sabelli believes they are underreported.

Renters may not recognize discrimination or know the grounds under which they are protected, she said. Many landlords are unaware they have responsibilities under human rights legislation.

"Housing is essential to a person's dignity, safety, well-being and ability to participate in their communities," Sabelli said.

"So these housing violations are particularly egregious."

Baylis said she's fortunate she could keep living in her basement suite in Vancouver's Champlain Heights neighbourhood.

She, too, believes tenancy discrimination is underreported and wants to bring attention to it.

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.