SHRC commissioner David Arnot pictured far right, at an event in early 2015. Photo courtesy

The body that defends the human rights of Saskatchewan people is reminding landlords it is illegal to deny accommodation to someone because you don’t like their religion, their race, their sexual orientation or the fact they are on welfare.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has sent out an open letter after recent concerns were raised by some individuals in Saskatoon.

The chief commissioner of the SHRC, David Arnot, said discrimination can take many forms, and all of it is illegal. He says his office handled about 20 rental-based discrimination complaints last year. That represents only about five per cent of the total discrimination cases last year. He doesn’t see it as a big problem, and he is hoping the open letter on tenant rights will head-off any increase in the number of complaints.

“In response to a number of a stakeholders who have been raising this issue we have decided to respond in this way,” he said. “We will monitor the situation with those stakeholders and if there are specific cases that come to our attention we will litigate if necessary.”

Arnot said complaints are settled much quicker these days, from a matter of minutes to months. The average complaint takes about six months to resolve whereas a few years ago complaints were taking up to four years to settle.

If a landlord is found guilty of discrimination they face damage awards to be paid to the complainant.

The executive director of the Saskatchewan Landlords Association (SKLA), Chandra Lockhart, said there will always be some bad landlords, just as there will always be some bad tenants, but she says for the most part landlords understand and abide by the rules.

“We have a code of ethics and bylaws that our landlords are required to follow,” she said. “Under our bylaws we would not tolerate that.   If we found a landlord was purposely discriminating we would need to investigate and deal with that landlord.”

Lockhart recently took part in a panel discussion in Moose Jaw with a number of landlords. They explained to landlords what their obligations are, particularly in relation to new immigrants and working together to provide appropriate housing.

The SKLA has about 700 members province-wide.