Windsor

'Indian students preferred': Discriminatory rental ads have people shying away from applying

Discriminatory language in rental unit advertisements, appealing specifically to students from India, have left a Windsor, Ont. woman struggling to find a place to live.

'I don't want to waste my time because I feel like I'm not going to be accepted anyway'

Stephanie Kerr has been trying to find a place to rent for the past year, but discriminatory language in a number of advertisements have discouraged her from applying for a number of properties. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Discriminatory language in rental unit advertisements, appealing specifically to students from India, have left a Windsor woman struggling to find a place.

Stephanie Kerr, her two children and boyfriend have been staying at her brother's place for almost one year. During that time, she's been scouring through websites such as Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace to find a place to rent.

Her problem is not that she can't find any rental property listings. It's that the language many of them include has left her feeling she doesn't fit the criteria some landlords are looking for in a tenant.

The most egregious example, she said, includes wording such as "preferred Indians only."

"It makes you feel bad. I don't even want to bother applying," said Kerr. "I don't want to waste my time because I feel like I'm not going to be accepted anyway, so why bother trying to apply somewhere that wants a specific type of person to live there?"

"I've been looking for almost a year now to find somewhere that's suitable and within my financial means for me and my family to live, and it's become almost impossible. I feel like I'm not good enough or we're not good enough to apply to places."

Why some landlords 'prefer Indian students'

"There are a lot of people advertising like this — that they prefer Indian students as compared to the Canadians," said real estate agent Preetinder Brar.

CBC News reached out to two landlords who showed preference to Indian students in their rental ads to find out why they did so, but no response was received.

Brar pointed to multiple reasons this is happening. The first is the ability to collect more rent from international students. Back in 2018, Brar spoke with CBC News about some landlords renting out single-person rooms to multiple international students, resulting in increased revenue.

This rental listing, posted to Kijiji more than one month ago, explicitly states a preference for tenants who come from a Gujarati background. (Kijiji)

Brar noted that hasn't changed. According to him, a five-bedroom house that would normally be rented for $500 per room could be bumped up to $550 or $600 per room since the demand is so high.

Plus, the desire to stay on their landlord's good side may result in tenants turning a blind eye to necessary fixes and repairs, Brar said.

"They don't complain that much. For example, if there are bugs in the house, if the house needs updating, they won't complain to anybody. So that's why the landlords still prefer the international students as compared to the Canadians."

Real estate agent Preeinder Brar says he's noticed an increasing number of rental advertisements which show preference to Indian students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Another reason international students are given preference by landlords, according to Brar, is a federal government program which requires out-of-country students to ensure they have enough savings to complete their studies in Canada.

"In the case of Canadians, they are working and they are paying rent. In the case of international students, rent is coming from their GIC. So there is no problem in recovering the rent."

Not okay to use discriminatory language — even by accident

Landlords are not allowed to deny housing to a tenant because of their race. The Ontario Human Rights Code says it's not okay to show preference in a rental listing either.

Other problematic statements include "adult building," "not suitable for children," "no ODSP" and "seeking a mature couple."

This ad suggests this room for rent is specifically for Indian students. This wording violates the Ontario Human Rights Code. (Kijiji)

Knowing what language counts as discriminatory can be a little confusing.

Some landlords make statements that may discriminate "even if they don't mean to," according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, adding this often happens when landlords are trying to appeal to people they think may like the rental unit.

Some examples include "ideal for quiet couple," "suitable for single professional," "perfect for female student," "suits mature individual or couple," "great for working folks or students" — and "not soundproof" (which may indicate bias against families with children.

Another part of the reason Kerr said she's felt like she's not "good enough" when looking through online rental listings is that most landlords ask for a credit check.

"A lot of people who are renting in the first place don't have established credit or they don't have a high enough credit score to get a mortgage or anything like that," she said.

Discriminatory rental ads aren't just popping up in Windsor. This ad on OKz.ca appeals to Indian males as 'preferred' tenants for this property in the Oakville region. (OKz.ca)

According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, landlords are allowed to ask prospective tenants for a credit check. However, the landlord can only base the decision to rent on the results of the credit check if the prospective tenant makes no other information available.

The human rights commission advises landlords to stick to describing the unit, not the tenant.

About the Author

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.

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