Western University student denied tenancy by landlord who said her tattoos were 'scary'

A first-year Western University student who arrived in London, Ont., from Saskatchewan had a rental agreement cancelled last minute by a landlord who said she didn't like her tattoos, in an act one lawyer said could result in a small-claims court action.

Lawyer says student, who moved to Ont. from Sask., may be able to seek damages in small claims court

Kadince Ball signed a lease for an apartment in London, Ont., before arriving from Saskatchewan for her first year at Western University. When she met the landlord in person, the landlord said she wouldn't rent to her. She later told CBC News it was because of Ball's tattoos. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

A first-year Western University student who arrived in London, Ont., from Saskatchewan had a rental agreement cancelled last minute by a landlord who said she didn't like her tattoos, in an act one lawyer said could result in a small-claims court action.

Kadince Ball, 18, graduated from high school in the spring and was elated to learn she'd been accepted into Western's medical science program. 

"I've always wanted to be a doctor and medical schools are getting more competitive now, so it's important to have a good university bachelor degree and Western is one of the top-rated ones in Canada," Ball said. 

One of Ball's tattoos, a cherub on her shoulder. Ball's landlord moved to cancel the lease because she found this and the Western student's other tattoos 'scary.' (Submitted by Kadince Ball)

Responding to an online ad from home, Ball rented a room in a house for $675 a month near Oxford Street West and Sarnia Road. She viewed the place online and spoke to landlord Esther Lee, who sent her a lease. Ball paid Lee a $50 deposit, signed the lease, loaded up her car and started the two-day drive to London. 

Ball arrived in the southwestern Ontario city a few days before the lease was to start on Sept. 1. She planned to stay in a hotel for a few days and went to introduce herself to Lee. Ball said the initial in-person visit seemed to go well, but after arriving at the hotel, Lee phoned to give her bad news. 

Landlord changed mind, student says

"She calls me and just says, 'I don't want you living here,'" said Ball. "I was like, 'Hey, a lease has been signed, my deposit has been sent over — what is the problem?' Every time I would ask her, 'Why not? Is there anything I can do? Do we need to revise the lease?' But there was nothing from her end. It was just, 'I don't want you living here.'"

Ball's forearm tattoo shows a snake curled around a rose. A lawyer who helps students with landlord tenant disputes says Ball could seek compensation after her landlord, who didn't like the look of the tattoos, moved to cancel her lease. (Submitted by Kadince Ball)

Lee returned Ball's deposit, but Ball had to spend four more days in a hotel, scrambling to find accommodation in London's fierce rental market with the start of classes only days away. 

"We went through countless interviews, and messaging back and forth, and tours of places, and sending over applications for the rentals and all of that, and we just weren't getting anything at all," said Ball.

After what Ball described as "four days of freaking out," she secured an apartment, although had to convince the landlord to let her move in a month early. 

CBC News has viewed a copy of the lease and also spoke to Lee by phone. 

Lee told CBC News she moved to cancel the lease because she became "scared" after seeing Ball's tattoos. The day the two first met in person, it was hot and Ball was wearing a tank top that showed her tattoos, which include a snake wrapped around a flower on her forearm, a cherub on one shoulder and a flower on the other shoulder 

"It covered almost 70 per cent of her arm," said Lee. "That's why I don't want to rent it to her because it's scary, so scary." 

Ball was flabbergasted that the tattoos would allow a landlord to deny her tenancy on a signed agreement. 

"I'm speechless," she said. "A lease was signed and because I look a certain way, I was denied tenancy. None of my tattoos are offensive. They are works of art, they are somebody's works of art on my body." 

Lease 'a binding contract,' lawyer says

Ian Dantzer is a lawyer at the Community Legal Services Clinic at Western's law department, which helps students resolve landlord-tenant disputes. 

He said the lease is binding as a matter of contract and would be enforceable in small claims court or at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), depending on the layout of the suite. The lease appears to show that the tenant and landlord would share some common areas of the house, in which case Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) would not apply. 
Ball says she can't believe a landlord cancelled her lease because she didn't like the look of this and other tattoos on her body. (Submitted by Kadince Ball)

But whether the RTA applies or not, Dantzer said Ball still has a route to seek damages either at the LTB or in small claims court.

"Once [Ball] entered into a lease, it's a binding contract and she's entitled to possession," said Dantzer, who points out that Ball fulfilled her obligations of the lease. "It's a morally reprehensible act if not illegal."

If the RTA applies, it requires two months of notice to terminate a lease.

Ball said pursuing an action in small claims court is something she'll consider, but after all she's endured, her main focus is her studies. 

"I don't know if I would have the time and energy to go through the process of filing a claim," she said in a text to CBC News.