Are you an alcoholic? Your rental application can't ask

An application for a rental property in Windsor asks if the person is on government assistance and if they're an alcoholic. The executive director of the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women makes sure her clients know which questions landlords can legally ask.

Landlords can ask if would-be renters have pets, but they can't ask about social assistance

Lady Laforet, the executive director of the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women, says some women don't know there are things landlords shouldn't be asking on rental applications. (CBC)

Lady Laforet had to get up and see what was happening when she overheard a conversation at the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women.

"You don't have to answer that," said a student who was helping a woman with a rental application for safe housing. 

The application asked the potential renter about their occupation. If they were on government assistance, the application asked to specify their program.

It also asked if the person was a smoker or an alcoholic and asked them to specify their take-home pay — as well as how much government assistance or parental subsidy they receive per month.

"We see it more actively in verbal conversations with landlords than we do in writing," said Laforet, the executive director of the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women.

And sometimes it goes further than that.

"It's always shocking and frustrating and infuriating when women come back and say, 'Oh I went to see the place. It's too bad. It was really great, until the landlord got a little too close, until the landlord said maybe we can work something out,'" said Laforet.

The Welcome Centre teaches clients about their rights as tenants, because Laforet said many clients aren't aware.

"There's sort of an assumption that if someone asks you a question, they're allowed to ask you that question and that because they've asked you a question you are required to answer it," said Laforet. "We said, 'Hey, wait a second before you start checking things off. Did you know that legally they can't ask you that?'"

One woman brought this rental application to the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women because she wanted help filling it out. (Facebook/Welcome Centre Shelter for Women)

According to Community Legal Education Ontario, there are questions landlords can ask on rental applications. They can ask your income, where you work, how many people will be living with you, if you have pets or if you smoke. 

They can also request a credit check, a guarantor, as well as references from previous landlords.

But they can't ask if you're pregnant or if you plan on having more children, if you already have children. They also can't about your relationship status, your age, your religion or ethnic background, your sexual orientation, if you use public assistance, if you have a disability or if you're a Canadian citizen. 

They also can't ask you to check yes or no to 'Are you an alcoholic.' Ontario's human rights laws consider dependency on drugs or alcohol a disability. 

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says landlords can't discriminate because of:

  • Race, colour or ethnic background.
  • Religious beliefs or practices.
  • Ancestry, including people of Aboriginal descent.
  • Place of origin.
  • Citizenship, including refugee status.
  • Sex (including pregnancy and gender identity).
  • Family status.
  • Marital status, including people with a same-sex partner.
  • Disability.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Age, including people who are 16 or 17 years old and no longer living with their parents.
  • Receipt of public assistance. 


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