Discrimination from landlords is pervasive in McMaster’s off-campus housing market. Students and grads are finally speaking up and working to address the problem.
In his second year, Alex, a recent McMaster alumnus who requested to be referred to under an alias, and his friends were looking at off-campus housing. With money in hand, they approached an owner.
“We talked to the owner. [Though] he was browsing groups, he seemed more interested in renting to an all-caucasian group than he was to us,” said Alex.
Though Alex and his friends were keen on making the deposit, the owner would not let them.
“He definitely seemed like he was going to take the other group should they have wanted it, though,” said Alex.
After sending some caucasian female friends to the owner with the same deposit, however, Alex was able to secure the place.
A second-year McMaster student experienced problems with her landlord after moving in. Despite being able to speak English fluently, her landlord refuses to communicate with tenants except for the one who spoke the landlord’s first language.
“She does not respond to my texts anymore so I stopped messaging her,” said the student. “One day she sent a contractor and needed to speak to one of us so I took the phone from the contractor. I was explaining the situation when she interrupted me and asked if [the favourite tenant] was in the house, when I said yes, the landlord asked to speak to [her] instead of me.”
Another McMaster student said her landlord started policing the social situation in her house.
“The landlord had made many comments about regulating who comes into the house and who comes over [specifically any male guests] due to the fact that we were ‘women who needed to be taken care of’ and made it clear that he can check in at any time because of safety concerns,” said the student.
“[Students of colour] tell us that they’ve been looking for places for months, and I doubt it’s just bad luck,”
Most of the discrimination, however, manifests itself before tenancy. According to a property manager from Spotted Properties, a local consultation and management service that works with landlords during the vetting process, a handful of landlords request student tenants from particular demographics.
The discrimination, in large part, stems from the fact that these landlords are part of an older generation.
“The[ir] bias ranges from gender, university program, race, dress style and the list can go on,” said the property manager, who asked to remain unnamed.
Landlords often explicitly discriminate against students from minority and marginalized groups.
“One time, this elderly lady whispered to me that she doesn’t want to rent to Indian students,” he said.
Academic problems are also grounds for discrimination.
“We get clients who say they only want students in health science…. We also get clients who say they don’t want any social science students.”
Students of colour are disproportionately disadvantaged.
“[Students of colour] tell us that they’ve been looking for places for months, and I doubt it’s just bad luck,” said the property manager. “We started keeping tabs on this and found that towards the end of August, we see an influx of students of colour.”
When asked how Spotted Properties is curbing the discrimination, the property manager said that, though the business has yet to take concrete steps, he believes that education is key.
“We try to disconnect landlords and tell them that, as a company, we can’t accommodate them…. But we want to do more,” he said.
The property manager noted that, because many landlords are parents of McMaster students and grads, the university could also be doing more to reduce discrimination.
“Even if McMaster sent out some awareness information about the laws governing tenancy and the inaccuracy of stereotypes, it could make a difference,” he said.
While increased education may not remedy the problem entirely, it’s a step that needs to be taken.