The elephant in the room

J.T. writes:

Dear Paul:

Whenever I drive down the streets of our Canadian city or read the newspapers, I see advertisements for condos geared for people fifty and over. Isn’t this discrimination on the basis of age?

Paul replies:

Dear J.T.:

As with anything in life, there are usually two sides to every coin. In most instances, you are correct. Discrimination on the basis of age is prohibited by human rights legislation across Canada. The following is an excerpt from the Manitoba Human Rights Commission Fact Sheet on Discrimination and Condominium Housing.   

The Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in condominium housing. This
means that a condominium corporation, property manager or agent cannot discriminate in
the sale or occupancy of condominium housing based on protected characteristics, such as
ancestry.

  • Protected characteristics include ancestry, national origin, ethnic background,
    religion, age, sex (including sex-determined characteristics, such as pregnancy),
    sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status, source of income,
    political belief, physical or mental disability, and social disadvantage.
  • Discrimination includes failing to reasonably accommodate special needs that are
    based on protected characteristics, such as disability.
  • Harassment based on a protected characteristic, such as sex, is also prohibited.
  • Discrimination in advertisements is prohibited, including signs or ads about
    condominium units for sale.

A condominium corporation may be in violation of The Human Rights Code even when it has
met all requirements of The Condominium Act.

http://bit.ly/2AGkx33

What does this mean in practical terms? Let me illustrate with examples:

  • A young couple intends to purchase a condo in a building advertised as a fifty plus project. While it may not be the most appropriate choice for them to make from a lifestyle viewpoint because they won’t have much in common with their neighbours, denying them the opportunity to purchase and reside in that building would be considered discrimination.
  • If a real estate agent aggressively discourages a single mother under the age of fifty with two young children from purchasing a unit in a fifty-plus building because the agent knows that the unit owners may not look kindly to such a new owner, it could be a violation of the Code.

Why is this happening? The most likely reason is that the actions of a few people are not being challenged. If there are no challenges or few complaints, no legal precedents are set, and they do not make the news. Another reason is the lack of education around the subject of human rights.

Are there not exceptions that can be made? Yes, there are. Human Rights legislation can make exceptions and allow discrimination on one or more of the prohibited characteristics with “special programs”. Special programs are defined as ways that will allow a disadvantaged group to participate in society at large with dignity. As an example, a condo building that is specifically designed for older adults with mobility problems; has wider doorways to accommodate wheelchairs; lower light switches and kitchen counters; visual (lighted) alarms for visually impaired, catered meals, and organized outings. If a development is conceived to meet the needs of those who may otherwise have difficulty obtaining adequate housing, an application could be made for an exception under the Code. Just because seniors want to live with other seniors does not mean that seniors as a group are disadvantaged and require special consideration.

I realize that this subject is very controversial, the elephant in the room, the subject that polarizes people and sparks arguments. However, we should not shy away from learning and understanding.

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