CANADA: Landlord ordered to pay Muslim tenants $12,000 for refusing to accommodate their religious demands

An adjudicator with the Human Rights Tribunal awarded a Muslim couple $12,000 because of the couple’s claim that their Christian landlord discriminated against them based on their religion, failed to accommodate all their religious demands and harassed them by creating a “poisoned housing environment.”

CIJ News  (h/t Miroslav) Over the course of two days, the Tribunal’s adjudicator, Jo-Anne Pickel, ruled that the landlord, John Alabi, must pay $12,000 to Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail. In addition, the landlord must take the e-learning module on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website called “Human Rights in Rental Housing.” The tenants had originally asked for $20,000. The landlord denied any discrimination.

The couple, who immigrated from Egypt to Montreal and later to Toronto, and who identify as Arab Muslims, testified that they practice their religion by praying five times a day. According to the husband, the prayers take between 7-10 minutes if he prays alone and up to 15 minutes if he prays with his wife. According to the couple, it is important to pray in a clean area that is free of any contamination, including any discharge from humans or animals.

The couple, who moved to Toronto in December, 2014, rented an apartment from the landlord, which was located in the same house where he lives. Approximately two months later, in February of 2015, after several disputes over apartment temperature, use of the internet, and the couple’s request for a quiet environment after 10 p.m., the landlord terminated the couple’s lease by mutual agreement and notified the couple that he will begin showing the apartment to prospective tenants after giving them notice 24 hours in advance, as required by the Residential Tenancies Act.

The husband then requested an additional “heads up” an hour before the showing in case he and his wife were “sleeping or whatever” and when the landlord replied that he had the right to show the apartment any time between 8 am and 8 pm, the husband replied that the landlord knew he and his wife were Muslim and had certain rules concerning what women wear.

The husband informed the landlord that if he came to show the apartment, he would need to wait at the door until the couple “got prepared”, and if there were any problems, the police would be the couple’s “last resort for such racism and violation of our civil rights”, to which the landlord texted: “Welcome to Ontario Canada”.

On February 6, 2015, the husband added another element to the request for the second notice: he told the landlord that the couple prayed four times during the day, that each prayer took between 8 to 10 minutes, and that was one of the reasons he needed notice shortly before the viewing.

The couple claims that they felt “humiliated, disrespected and insulted” by the landlord’s actions, and the husband experienced “stress, loss of appetite and tiredness” because living in the apartment was “like living in a nightmare”.

After a two-day testimony, the adjudicator ruled that:

  • The landlord failed to provide notice in addition to the 24-hour notice required under the Act before entering the apartment with prospective tenants, in order to enable the couple to finish their prayers. The adjudicator felt that the landlord’s refusal to provide notice other than the statutory notice had an “adverse effect” on the couple and “discriminated against the applicants on the basis of creed”.
  • The landlord made the couple feel “uncomfortable” and demonstrated religious discrimination when he failed to remove his shoes in the couple’s apartment after the couple explained to the adjudicator that “if someone wore outdoor shoes in their prayer space, they would have to wash the space several times to cleanse it”.
  • The landlord failed to notify the couple by text shortly before showing the apartment to prospective tenants, even though the couple had explained to him the reason for the requesting the second notice is because they pray at the apartment four times each day and each prayer takes between 8-10 minutes.
  • The landlord made “loud pounding” noises when shovelling snow outside, which the adjudicator felt were “at least partially related to the applicants’ request for accommodation”.
  • The landlord’s “Welcome to Ontario, Canada” text offended the couple. Even though the landlord explained that the comment was made in a completely different context, namely the difference between landlord and tenant law in Ontario and Quebec (where the couple lived prior to moving to Ontario), the adjudicator found that by including the word “Canada” in the text, the landlord was at least in part communicating to the couple that somehow they would have to adjust their religious practices or expectations regarding accommodation request. The adjudicator found the “Ontario, Canada” comment to be “linked to the applicants’ creed and/or place of origin”.
  • The couple wanted to admit into evidence a joke about a devout Arab Muslim which the landlord shared on his Facebook page. Even though the landlord explained that the only reason he shared the joke was because he found it funny, the Tribunal adjudicator felt it was “relevant to discerning his views on religiously-based accommodation requests by Muslims”.

    Two bedroom basement apartment for rent in Toronto’s northwest end —one bathroom, newly painted and renovated with a side entrance. The ad, posted on popular classified site Kijiji.ca, comes with the typical caveats —no pets allowed, no smokers. And then, a less common request: ONLY Muslims need apply.

Once again, Muslims are laughing at us all the way to the bank. There is evidence that Muslims want and receive not equal treatment but better and preferred treatment.  They get special rights and are allowed to engage in conduct that no non-Muslim could ever get away with.  Yet a Canadian man was denied housing because he’s not a Muslim.