'Step up to the plate and take a chance' on low-income tenants, says longtime Saskatoon landlord

Lorraine Scott has been a landlord for over 30 years. She has heard countless stories of discrimination and unkindness from her own tenants — almost all of whom fall within the low-income bracket.

Lorraine Scott starts each new tenant with a clean slate

Lorraine Scott is a longtime landlord and works at the Friendship Inn as a social worker. She hears stories of discrimination from her clients, and has found many systemic barriers to accessing housing for people on social assistance. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Lorraine Scott wasn't surprised by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission's (SHRC's) recent report chronicling discrimination against tenants by landlords in Saskatoon.

She's been a landlord for over 30 years and she's heard countless stories of discrimination and unkindness from her own tenants — almost all of whom fall within the low-income bracket.

She understood many of her tenants' struggles. Scott raised three children as a single mother while putting herself through post-secondary education.

Through consultation with tenants, landlords, Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Service and others, SHRC compiled anecdotal evidence that supports the idea that discrimination against people on social assistance, single mothers and Indigenous people is widespread in the city.

Scott said she was somewhat sceptical at first of the fed-up, upset potential tenants who came to view her property.
The housing system is hard to navigate, especially if you don't have access to a computer. Lorraine Scott created a resource booklet for her clients at the Friendship Inn. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

"It was very overwhelming, then I started to realize many people needed a home and how upset they were when they came to look at the place and realized they wouldn't be able to afford it. They didn't have references. There are a lot of barriers that were right there staring me in the face," she said.

"It became very evident to me I would have to step up to the plate and take a chance on some people and maybe make some exceptions."

Challenges exist

While Scott felt compelled to treat her tenants with kindness and act as a mentor of sorts, she admitted there are challenges to renting to people on social assistance.

"Many didn't really have the full picture of taking care of the property, like mowing the lawn and how to take care of it," she said

"I felt I had to monitor them through that and the best way to do that was to almost befriend them.So to become that support person."

Most of Scott's properties over the years were duplexes. She owned one single-family home, which brough specific challenges.

"I found that suddenly there was a whole bunch of people living there so i had to clean house. I realized it was very important I control that."

Scott decided to stick to duplexes. She had four of them at one time. She found it easier to manage.

Once she got to know the tenant on one side and they understood her rules, they would keep an eye on their new neighbour next door.

Give tenants — and landlords — a chance

Scott's approach is to give every potential tenant a clean slate.

She urged other landlords to do the same. She also suggested tenants follow her lead.

"Many people came to me and initially where I learned there were problems was from them, and when they came to me and they were very powerful and angry already because they had so many negative responses," she said.

Scott's approach was to ask the potential tenant to come see the suite and chat face-to-face. 

Some tenants were upset the rent was just a bit out of reach, but Scott says she had to cover her own costs. Tenants would have to find roommates or take money from another part of their budget to make the rent.

"There was some anger there already so i had to work with that and show them I wasn't the ogre they'd already dealt with, and that I was somebody new and I deserved a new chance, too."