The Alberta Human Rights Act protects against discrimination in the area of tenancy (renting a place to live). This includes advertising a rental unit or property and the tenancy’s terms and conditions. Landlords and housing providers cannot refuse to rent to or discriminate against tenants based on a protected ground.
How does the Alberta Human Rights Act protect against discrimination in tenancy?
What you need to know
- Every tenant in Alberta has a right to live free from discrimination while in a rental place.
- Landlords and housing providers cannot refuse to rent to a person based on a protected ground.
- Landlords and housing providers cannot use tenancy terms and conditions to discriminate against a person based on a protected ground.
- A person can make a human rights complaint if they believe they have experienced discrimination when finding a place to rent or during a tenancy.
- Landlords and housing providers have a duty to accommodate their tenants to the point of undue hardship.
Rights and responsibilities
Landlords and housing providers must follow human rights law. This means:
- not discriminating against people when advertising rental housing, reviewing rental applications, or choosing tenants
- not using tenancy terms and conditions to discriminate against potential or current tenants
- fulfilling their duty to accommodate, which includes considering tenant requests for accommodation and taking reasonable steps to accommodate individual needs to the point of undue hardship
If a person believes they have been discriminated against when finding a place to rent or during tenancy, they can make a human rights complaint. For more information, refer to the Responding to discrimination and Making a complaint pages.
Examples of discrimination in rental housing
Discrimination can occur when a person is looking for a place to rent, for example:
- A person with a guide dog asks to see a rental property. The landlord refuses to show the property and says dogs are not allowed.
- A landlord refuses to rent to a person after learning from the rental application process that the person receives income supports, rental subsidies including from a Band/Métis Settlement or Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP), AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped), or other disability benefits.
- A landlord refuses to rent to a person because of their race, ancestry, family status, or marital status.
Discrimination can also occur while a person is already renting a place, for example:
- A landlord discovers a tenant has a mental disability and starts treating the tenant poorly. The landlord insults the tenant and spreads rumours about them.
- A landlord verbally and physically harasses tenants because of their sexual orientation.
- A landlord raises rent to try and make a tenant move because they are pregnant or have small children.
- A landlord ends a tenancy without reasonably accommodating a tenant’s physical or mental disability, including a tenant’s need to have a qualified guide dog or service dog.
Duty to accommodate in rental housing
Accommodation in housing often involves the protected grounds of physical disability. It may also involve other protected grounds such as religious beliefs, ancestry, family status, marital status, and mental disability.
Examples of accommodation in rental housing include:
- making sure people using wheelchairs can access apartments by having a ramp and electronic door opening devices
- making exceptions to tenancy rules to allow for service dogs and guide dogs
- offering a ground floor unit to a tenant with mobility issues
- allowing tenants to cook their cultural foods in their units
- allowing tenants to practice cultural traditions, such as smudging
Landlords and housing providers must take steps to accommodate a person’s request for accommodation to the point of undue hardship. A landlord or housing provider may have to experience some hardship in providing accommodation. To be undue, the hardship must be “substantial in nature.” For example, this could be an intolerable financial cost or serious disruption to business. For more information, refer to the Duty to accommodate in housing page.
It depends on the type of housing and when the age restrictions were put in place.
Age means someone 18 years or older. The Act protects individuals 18 years and older from age discrimination. On January 1, 2018, age became a protected ground in the areas of tenancy and goods, services, accommodation, or facilities customarily available to the public (which covers condominiums).
There are three exceptions in the Act for age restrictions:
- Benefits based on age may only be for minors, or for seniors 55 years and older.
- Seniors-only housing can impose age minimums for residents.
- Age-restricted condominiums, co-operative housing units, and mobile home sites can have age restrictions only if the restrictions were in place before January 1, 2018.
Age-restricted condominiums, co-operative housing units, and mobile home sites (with restrictions in place before January 1, 2018) must convert to all-ages housing or to seniors-only housing by January 1, 2033. A new condominium cannot impose age restrictions.
For example, a condominium complex is “adults only” and has an age restriction of 21 and up. Because the restriction was put in place before January 1, 2018, and the Act allows for a 15‑year transition period for existing age‑restricted condominiums, the condominium complex can no longer have an age restriction after December 31, 2032.
For more information on age restrictions in housing and condominiums, refer to the Age discrimination page.
Who is responsible for providing accommodation when a tenant rents a condominium unit from its owner?
It depends on what the accommodation request is about. These situations can fall under the areas of both tenancy or goods, services, accommodation, or facilities. Condominium corporations are a service or accommodation provider to all condominium residents. They have a duty to accommodate condominium residents, regardless of whether they own or rent a unit. Landlords who own condominium units also have a duty to accommodate tenants living in their units.
Do housing providers (including landlords and condominiums) and goods and services providers have to accommodate people with assistance and support animals?
Some people with disabilities may rely on an assistance or support animal, such as a service dog or guide dog. There are also other types of assistance and support animals, such as therapy, companion, or emotional support animals.
The Act and other laws in Alberta protect the rights of individuals to use a qualified service dog or guide dog. Guide dogs are trained as a guide for blind people while service dogs are trained as a guide for disabled persons. Both types of dogs must meet qualifications under the law.
Housing providers (including landlords and condominiums) and goods and services providers cannot discriminate against individuals with a disability who have a qualified service dog or guide dog. They must accommodate these individuals to the point of undue hardship. Providers may also have a duty to accommodate individuals with other types of assistance and support animals. Whether there is a duty to accommodate depends on the situation and reliable medical information confirming the person’s disability and need for the animal.
Human rights laws are one of many laws that apply in housing.
For example, residential tenancies laws include rules that both landlords and tenants must follow when it comes to rent, security deposits, notices, and more. Minimum housing and health standards include rules for ensuring safe, sanitary, and livable properties. Privacy laws require landlords, housing providers, and condominium corporations to get consent when collecting, using, and sharing personal information.
There are also laws for specific types of housing. For example, condominium laws and bylaws only apply to condominiums. Mobile home sites tenancies laws only apply to mobile home site rentals. Subsidized housing or social housing laws apply to subsidized housing or social housing.
Read our Other helpful agencies page to learn more about agencies that can help with issues besides human rights.
When assessing potential tenants, landlords and housing providers usually ask for information such as rental history and references. While this is usually allowable, courts and human rights tribunals in Canada have found that not renting to tenants based on information about their personal characteristics could be discrimination.
Examples of discrimination include:
- A landlord uses a rent-to-income ratio to screen potential tenants.
- A landlord asks for credit information only from tenants of a particular race, but not others.
- A landlord asks questions that can be used to discriminate against potential tenants based on their personal characteristics, such as family status, marital status, religion, and ancestry.
Yes, the Act also prohibits discrimination in commercial tenancy. Discrimination in commercial tenancy can occur when a tenant is looking for a commercial space to rent or is already renting a commercial space.
Examples of discrimination in commercial tenancy include:
- renting to people of a particular race but not others
- harassing a tenant
- refusing to renegotiate a lease renewal because of a tenant’s religious beliefs
If you believe you have experienced discrimination in commercial tenancy, refer to the Making a complaint page.
The Act recognizes that sometimes discrimination is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances. This allows a person or organization responding to a human rights complaint to justify a discriminatory practice, requirement, standard, or policy as being reasonable and justifiable.
A discriminatory practice at work that is reasonable and justifiable is called a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). A service provider may have discriminatory standards or policies that are reasonable and justifiable.
Employers, service providers, landlords, and others must meet legal requirements to prove a practice, requirement, standard, or policy is reasonable and justifiable. They must show it:
- was adopted for a purpose that is rationally connected to the function being performed
- was made in an honest and good‑faith belief that it was necessary to fulfill a legitimate purpose or goal
- was reasonably necessary to accomplish that purpose or goal, including that the respondent could not accommodate the complainant without incurring undue hardship
For example, a car insurance company provides different premium rates to people based on a risk assessment of certain age groups. While the company’s rate-setting methods are prima facie (at first glance) discriminatory based on age, the practice of charging more for certain groups is reasonable and justifiable. The insurance company’s methods may be a sound and accepted practice in the industry, and there may be no practical alternatives that are fair to other insured drivers.
Another example is a seniors’ residence only hiring male nursing attendants for male residents who request an attendant of the same gender. A female job applicant applies for a nursing attendant position in the seniors’ residence but is not hired. The employer may have a bona fide occupational requirement, as it is reasonable for residents to have their requests met to preserve their sense of personal dignity and privacy. While the requirement is at first glance discriminatory, it is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstance.
If you are the respondent to a complaint and believe the discrimination described in the complaint is reasonable and justifiable, you should provide detailed information about this in the Response Form.
For more on reasonable and justifiable practices, requirements, standards, or policies, refer to the Defences to Human Rights Complaints human rights guide.