'Native?' Winnipeg man won't call landlord racist but is speaking out to raise awareness

A Winnipeg man who was asked if he was "Native" when he inquired about renting a house says the question was discriminatory and inappropriate, but it wasn't necessarily racist.

Sheldon Bayer says a prospective landlord asked him if he was 'Native'

Sheldon Bayer says being asked about his race when answering an ad for a house rental was discriminatory. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A Winnipeg man who was asked if he was "Native" when he inquired about renting a house says the question was discriminatory and inappropriate, but it wasn't necessarily racist. 

Sheldon Bayer was asked that question after answering an online ad for a house rental.

Bayer says he texted the number in a Kijiji ad advertising a home for rent in Amber Trails. Bayer says he asked if he could see the home and get more information.

He said he was taken aback with the response from the landlord. 

"And then he asked, 'How many r u?' and I said, '3 of us.' And then he asked 'Native or…?'"

Bayer says he answered, 'does it matter?'

Bayer says his initial reaction was that he was being discriminated against. Bayer told the landlord that he and his wife both had jobs, and that his son would be graduating from high school next June. 
Bayer says he's never been asked about his race before when applying to rent a home. (Supplied)

"Does he think that I'm not working? Does he think the worst of being an Indigenous person?" 

The landlord replied that it wasn't a problem and to contact him next week, but Bayer said by then he was no longer interested and told him he doesn't tolerate discrimination.

"I took it as offence. I think any other culture would take it as offence," said Bayer.

"Maybe he was just uneducated or just not very professional."
A Winnipeg man says he was offended when he was asked about his race after answering an online ad for a house rental. 1:38

CBC News contacted the person who posted the ad, which has already been taken down. The man did not want to be interviewed on camera but said he didn't think he did anything wrong.

He said he was only asking because he has had Indigenous tenants in the past and that they always paid their rent on time.

He said he didn't understand why Bayer took offense to his question and that it was a misunderstanding. He also said he was sorry if Bayer was offended.

But Bayer says that's not enough.

"If you're in a position to be a landlord, I think you should know the rules and regulations," he said.

Race questions out of bounds

Avrom Charach of the Professional Property Managers' Association says asking a question about someone's race or background is not OK.

"It is inappropriate. You are not to do that. It's got nothing to do with whether a person is going to be a good or bad renter," said Charach.

Charach said professional landlords are trained about what kinds of questions they are allowed to ask, but many people who own a property and are looking to rent it on their own may not have that training or awareness.

"Most of these people don't know that what they're doing is actually illegal according to the Human Rights Code, and they don't realize that they're offending someone," he said.

Charach says the only way to determine if someone would be a good tenant is to ask for a rental history and references.

"History is a good indicator, not the history of a nation, but the history of the individual in question," said Charach.

'Racism is a strong word'

Bayer says he doesn't plan to file a formal complaint about the landlord. He says he only wanted to draw awareness to the issue and didn't want to label the landlord or make any judgements about him.

"There's a big difference between discrimination and racism in my head. Racism is a strong word, it's thrown around so much," he said.

"I don't think he's racist at all, it was a very discriminative question to ask," said Bayer.
Bayer says he posted the text message exchange on his Facebook page to take a stand against the behaviour, but also to see if something like this has happened to anyone else. (Supplied)

Bayer posted the experience on his Facebook page and said it was shared several times before he deleted it. He said most of the comments were positive, but a few were not. He said negative comments were directed at both him and the landlord.

"The landlord was probably getting a bit too much flack for it too. The comments were getting very nasty," said Bayer.

"I definitely don't want people to take this lying down. It may be small to some people ... but it grows to a big thing [with] prejudice and racism," he said.

Bayer says he hasn't heard from the landlord since but hopes that by speaking publicly he will realize that his question was inappropriate.

"Just to let him know that maybe he did overstep his boundaries and there are more people out there that don't want to tolerate that kind of discrimination."