Gay couples and single parents face significant discrimination when trying to rent an apartment in Metro Vancouver, and a study by the University of B.C. suggests such intolerance may be even higher in other cities.

The university says the research, by sociology Prof. Nathanael Lauster, is the first to explore how that kind of discrimination varies by region.

It finds gay couples are nearly 25 per cent more likely to be rejected by Metro Vancouver landlords, while single parents are about 15 per cent more likely to be turned down for a suite.

Lauster is concerned because Vancouver has a reputation for tolerance of diversity and strong housing laws to protect against discrimination.

"This means that housing discrimination levels may even be higher in other cities."

Lauster, who co-authored the study, said Metro Vancouver discrimination rates varied by neighbourhood, with landlords in areas such as East Vancouver, with large numbers of single parents, were more likely to reject single-parent tenants.

Financial difficulties

His findings, published in the August issue of the journal Social Problems, suggest discrimination for gay couples is likely based on ignorance or moral objections that lessen with contact, but discrimination against single parents may stem from their often shakier financial position.

The study was based on responses to email inquiries sent to landlords advertising Metro Vancouver vacancies for one- and two-bedroom apartments on popular online housing websites.

Researchers analyzed nearly 17,000 online rental inquiries.

The results suggest there were lower levels of discrimination toward same-sex couples in neighbourhoods with large gay populations, such as Vancouver's West End and West Side.

The study found no significant differences in landlord responses to female same-sex couples compared to heterosexual couples.

Metro Vancouver's liberal population and strong anti-discrimination laws make the findings an important "hard test case" for rental discrimination in major North American urban centres, Lauster said.

He said more work is needed to ensure landlords and renters are aware that discrimination by sexual preference or family relationship is illegal in Canada.