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In my experience, most landlords in Alberta have an understanding that they are subject to human rights legislation (in Alberta, the Alberta Human Rights Act, RSA 2000, c A-25.5)(the “Act”). What this means and how it impacts landlords, however, is less well understood. This article aims to provide you with the basics to understand your obligations as a landlord.
The starting point is that the Act is known as “quasiconstitutional” meaning it will be construed with greater importance than other statutes which do not have that status (such as the Residential Tenancies Act). This signals the importance afforded to these rights and landlords are encouraged to take them seriously and consider them carefully.
Section 5 of the Act addresses discrimination in tenancies. It prohibits landlords from either:
- Denying the right to occupy a unit otherwise represented as being available for occupancy; or
- Discriminating on the basis of any term or condition in a tenancy on the basis of a person’s (or class of persons’) race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.
Some of these will be obvious to us as instances of discrimination. For example, a landlord cannot advertise a rental to be available to members of their faith only because this would discriminate against any person who has a faith other than the landlord’s. This is an obvious example. What might be less obvious is an advertisement seeking female tenants only or married tenants only. Both of these would run afoul the Act. Another example is that a landlord cannot deny a person a lease on the basis that the person receives income from a government program. Nor can the landlord change the terms of the lease that they would offer to a person who receives income from a government program.
The issue does not always arise in regard to a new tenancy. It may be that a person experiences a change of circumstances which would cause them to need an accommodation from the landlord. An example might be a tenant who when they moved in did not require a service animal but overtime the need arises. In such a case if, for example, the premises was operated as pet free, the landlord will need to work with the tenant to accommodate the need for a service animal to the point of undue hardship. Undue hardship is something that always relates to the specific circumstances of a situation and landlords are encouraged to seek legal assistance in order to ensure they are meeting their obligations in that regard. One example of a limit to accommodation might be that a tenant is permitted to have a service animal but needs to take steps to limit allergens relating to the animal in light of another tenant in a neighbouring unit who has severe allergies.
This is a bird’s eye view of human rights and tenancies in Alberta. Further resources can be found at the website of the Alberta Human Rights Commission which publishes a number of information sheets to assist the public in understanding human rights.