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Everything You Need to Know About Tenant Screening Laws in Canada

Key Takeaways

  • Property managers in Canada must navigate rental and tenant screening laws that may vary across provinces.
  • Understanding the tenant screening laws regulated by the Canadian Human Rights Act is crucial for a smooth screening process and to establish a good tenant-landlord relationship.
  • Fair and non-discriminatory tenant screening practices benefit landlords and tenants.

Published on May 23, 2023 | Updated on May 30, 2023

A person is sitting and holding a pencil while reviewing papers on tenant screening laws in Canada.

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Before a tenant application is approved, an essential step for landlords is to screen tenants, ensuring they trust their residential property with someone reliable.

While tenant screening is critical in finding an ideal tenant, landlords should treat each potential renter fairly and abide by anti-discriminatory and other related tenant screening laws. Learn how tenant screening can provide benefits for landlords and tenants.

How the Canadian Human Rights Act affects tenant screening

Finding a tenant can be challenging. There are also tenant screening laws in Canada that landlords must familiarize themselves with before undertaking the role of a property manager. In this article, we’ll dive into how the Canadian Human Rights Act influences tenant screening.

Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, property managers and landlords are prohibited from asking discriminatory questions during the tenant screening process, whether asking questions verbally, digitally, or in print.

Tenant screening guidelines are a two-way street: while the anti-discriminatory laws are designed to protect potential renters, they also shield property managers from disparaging allegations or legal trouble.

Furthermore, incorporating good tenant screening practices will help separate the ideal candidate from the renters who may be considered risky tenants. Keeping a fool-proof screening process in place and standard screening criteria to protect landlords is an important first step to success.

Topics landlords should avoid include:
  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of origin
  • Religious beliefs
  • Gender
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Age
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability
  • Marital status
  • Source of income
  • Sexual orientation

Pre-screening questions landlords can ask

It is commonly assumed that the pre-screening process starts at the first contact with the prospective tenant, but in reality, pre-screening begins with a well-written ad. This attracts qualified leads  while filtering out less than ideal applicants. Once a landlord places an advertisement to rent their apartment or rental property, it’s common for prospective renters to contact the landlord to schedule a viewing. .

Interested tenants will usually have a line of questions regarding the property as they try to get a sense of the space, the nearby amenities, and the location. Always answer any questions about the property honestly.

Here are some questions that are acceptable to ask during the pre-screening process.

  • When are you looking to move in?
  • How long would you like to sign a lease?
  • How many people will be living with you?
  • What is your current address?
  • How long have you been at this address?
  • Have you given your current landlord property notice?
  • What is your reason for moving?
  • Do you have any pets? If so, what type and how many?
  • Do you or your roommate(s) smoke or vape?
  • Please tell me about your employment.
  • How did you hear about this rental?
  • Do you consent to a criminal, credit, and background check?
  • Can you provide references?

The initial screening will determine if both parties want to proceed. Pre-screening can provide valuable insights into the prospect. If the potential renter shows interest and wants to move forward, it’s time to begin the application process!

Property managers should always keep rental applications available at the viewing. The rental agreements or lease agreements will be drafted after the application is approved.

Tenant screening questions to include on an application

It’s natural to be nervous about renting your property to a stranger, even if you felt comfortable with them during the viewing of the property. Background and credit checks are essential in confirming that the person is who they say they are, and their credit history and rental history show that they’re accountable.

Property managers must get consent from all applicants before pulling credit checks, background checks, or contacting their previous landlord. As a courtesy to the applicant, informing anyone who asks for an application of what information you will need upfront is good practice. 

Generally, you need to ask for permission or consent to pull a Canadian credit report from a credit reporting agency, so landlords must include consent forms requiring signatures in print accompanying the application.

Here are the tenant screening questions to include on the rental application:

  • Basic information, e.g., name, DOB, residential address
  • Employment status and employment history
  • Income sources
  • Residential history
  • List pets, size, and breed. This question is acceptable in British Columbia but may not be in other provinces.
  • Landlord references and credit references
  • Do they smoke or vape?
  • List other occupants, if applicable
  • Have they ever filed for bankruptcy, and why?
  • Do they consent to a background check?
  • Do they agree to a credit check?

After reviewing a completed application, the answers a landlord receive will help determine whether an applicant will be approved or if more questions arise.

For instance, one of the questions on the application is “have you ever filed for bankruptcy, and why?” If the answer is yes, this will likely warrant more questions from the landlord, especially if the landlord is willing to approve the application.

There are many reasons why someone might file for bankruptcy. Suppose landlords choose to keep considering an applicant who has filed for bankruptcy as a potential tenant. In that case, a landlord can take the opportunity in a follow-up interview and ask the applicant to elaborate on the circumstances beyond what they already listed on the application.

For example, if the person was in financial distress because of the pandemic when they filed for bankruptcy, the landlord might determine it was no fault of their own. A landlord must consider many contributing factors at their discretion. If the tenant has outstanding debt, poor credit, and a record of not paying their bills on time, that should be considered a red flag. 

Tenant screening questions to avoid on an application 

We’ve covered all the practical questions to ask during the pre-screening process and on the application. Here are some questions to avoid incorporating into the application:

  • What is your sexual orientation?
  • What is your race?
  • What are your religious beliefs?
  • Personal questions regarding children or marital status are off limits.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re ever uncertain whether a question might seem invasive, don’t ask or include it in the application. Requesting to know a tenant’s sexual orientation is irrelevant to whether or not they will be a good tenant and can land a property manager in some legal trouble.

Many employment applications at large companies ask about race to gather statistics and quantify inclusion. When renting a property, you should avoid this question.

The Canadian Human Rights Act and related tenant screening laws consider questions regarding sexual orientation, race, religion, and marital status as grounds for discrimination, which is prohibited.

As long as the landlord doesn’t pry further into these topics or engage in these aforementioned conversations during the pre-screening process, the landlord cannot be responsible for unprompted information the prospective tenant provides.

Once you approve the tenant and you’ve shared the good news, you can ask if they have preferred pronouns when you review the next steps. By only asking for their preferred pronouns after you approve your tenant, this shows that you have remained unbiased during the application process.

Yes! You can set up automated rent payments through your tenant screening service company, too. Furthermore, SingleKey will report payments to the credit bureau to incentivize paying rent on time and help improve the tenant’s credit score.

Yes! As long as the applicant has provided written consent for both, a screening service can offer detailed credit and background information, ensuring you have the most accurate information to make an informed decision.

When it comes to renting a property without the risk of legal consequences, you can count on experienced tenant screening experts like SingleKey to help screen potential tenants smarter and faster and get comprehensive results. 

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