CEO reacts to landlord discrimination case

A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision forcing a landlord to pay $2,000 for allegedly discriminating against a woman suffering with mental health is “concerning,” says one industry veteran.

“The landlord has a right to screen prospective tenants but, obviously, in a non-discriminatory manner,” David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC told CREW. “The ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal is however concerning as the complainant didn’t provide enough evidence to establish that she suffered from mental illness and didn’t suffer any financial loss.”

His comments come following the Tribunal’s decision to penalize Nattanya Anderson, a landlord in B.C. who was found to have turned down a prospective tenant, Caroline Flak, in 2014 because the applicant allegedly suffered from depression.

According to the ruling, Flak recalled asking Anderson to inform her when her suite would be available but later learned that the landlord rented it to someone else.

While Flak couldn’t prove that she suffered from a mental disability, the B.C. Human Rights Code extends to "perceived as well as actual disabilities."

"I find, on the balance of probabilities, that Ms. Andersen perceived Ms. Flak to suffer from depression," wrote tribunal member Norman Trerise in the ruling.

"That perception was at least a factor, if not the sole cause, of her refusal to allow Ms. Flak to rent her suite."

Ironically enough, according to details in the ruling, Andersen has been an outspoken advocate for mental health education due to her own bouts with post-traumatic stress disorder as a flight attendant, and even wrote a memoir about it in 1999.

Still, the ruling sides with Flak citing an “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.” For Hutniak, the decision is a perplexing scenario, one he says could set a dangerous precedent.

“Why is the landlord being asked to pay her $2,000?” he said. “We are very careful to educate our members about the tenant screening process and what they can and cannot say. I do, however, very much struggle to understand the Tribunal’s decision. An appeal by the landlord seems appropriate but, I’m not sure that it would be worth the time or expense.”

The case, according to Hutniak, addresses an important concern about tribunal decisions, saying “I think this case just epitomizes a larger issue in regard to complaints brought before the Human Rights Tribunals and the decision rendered.”

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