With the influx of Syrian refugees making their way into Canada, landlords and property managers are reacting both philanthropically and diligently as they anticipate the types of challenges and opportunities that will present themselves with the new wave of prospective tenants.
Although welcoming immigrants is nothing new—over the past decade, Canada has admitted approximately 26,000 refugees from various countries around the world, annually—what is unique is the unprecedented number of refugees coming in from a single war-ravaged nation all at once. As part of the federal government’s accelerated entry program, 10,000 Syrian refugees will be arriving in Canada by the end of December and a total of 25,000 before March, 2016.
Since 2011, the civil war in Syria has displaced more than 4.3 million people, and given the mass devastation in the region, it’s expected that arriving refugees will have little in the way of resources or possessions. For the rental industry, this spells both an opportunity and a challenge.
“Rental housing will play a vital role in accommodating refugees,” says Mike Chopowick, Vice President of Industry Relations at the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario—noting that of the 25,000 total arrivals, 10,000 will be landing permanently in Ontario. “There are 1.2 million rental units in the private sector market throughout the province. On average, approximately 15,000-20,000 of these units could be vacant at any one time. Due to the arrival of an increased number of refugees, there could be a material—though not overly-significant—impact on apartment vacancy and availability rates.”
In recent weeks, several rental housing providers have proudly stepped forward to assist with refugee settlement in Canada. In November, Mainstreet Equity announced it would allocate 200 apartment units at discounted rates to refugees arriving in Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Surrey, Abbotsford and New Westminster. In Ottawa, Q Residential is reserving 150 apartments for refugee families in two apartment towers. Boardwalk has put out a statement outlining its plan to accommodate up to 350 refugee families, while Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie has granted full temporary use of a 12-unit building for refugees waiting for permanent homes.
This is just a small sampling of what rental property owners are doing to help with the immediate crisis, but moving forward, all landlords should be aware of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to leasing to new immigrants.
“It is always important for rental housing owners and property managers to stay up to date with legislation, regulations and case-law,” says Chopowick. ”In Ontario, rental housing is one of the most regulated business sectors. The Residential Tenancies Act has the specific, written purpose of “protecting tenants” and contains numerous obligations landlords must comply with to avoid costly financial penalties or rent abatements.”
Chopowick points out that tenants also have access to a wealth of legal resources, such a Landlord Tenant Board duty counsel, community legal aid clinics, and the taxpayer-funded Advocacy Centre for Tenants in Ontario, to help them fight their cases and advocate on their behalf. Laws regulating rental housing are constantly changing, and so should a landlord’s knowledge and education on residential tenancy law.
According to Chopowick, here are the most common human rights code violations landlords commit when screening prospective tenants:
– Not renting to refugees or new immigrants
– Imposing different criteria to approve newcomers
– Dismissing rental applicants due to lack of credit
– Requiring guarantors – but only for refugees/immigrants
– Asking Inappropriate questions/making comments about religion
Generally speaking, to ensure a screening process that is both fair and diligent, landlords should be aware of codes and legislation while acting within the law.
Here is a summary of what every landlord can and should do:
– Request credit reference and rental history information, and request authorization to conduct credit checks
– Consider credit references, rental history information and credit checks, alone or in any combination in order to assess the prospective tenant
– Request income information from a prospective tenant only if the landlord also requests credit references and rental history information
– Consider income information and select or refuse the prospective tenant accordingly, only if the landlord considers income information along with credit references, rental history information and credit checks
– If after requesting credit references, rental history information, credit checks and income information a landlord only obtains income information about a prospective tenant, the landlord may consider the income information alone
Erin Ruddy is the editor of Canadian Apartment Magazine