The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Commission are expressing concern that rental ads placed on Facebook Canada potentially are discriminatory.
The concern was triggered by a lawsuit filed in the U.S. against Facebook alleging that its rental housing platform allows — and even encourages — discrimination. The lawsuit was brought by a group of U.S. housing advocates that claimed the targeting features of the advertising platform allowed landlords to easily exclude certain demographics based on user interests and preferences. For instance, landlords could exclude anyone with an interest in toddlers, teenagers, religion, or disabilities.
Those lawsuits alleged that Facebook was aware of the risks of discrimination when it promoted its ad platform — which relies on the extensive Facebook database — to businesses but did little to prevent discrimination.
As a result, Facebook agreed to increase education and limit some targeting features for housing ads. But some remain skeptical these steps will do enough to prevent discrimination.
In a letter to Facebook’s Global Director, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Commission are asking the social media platform to clarify what specific steps it has taken to address the problem.
It is important to note that in the U.S., employment ads also were challenged. Many of the private employers who targeted or excluded certain demographics on Facebook are being sued for discrimination. So, it stands to reason that private landlords who continue with the Facebook targeting strategy in order to encourage or exclude specific populations may find they have violated federal or provincial discrimination rules.
Human rights violations in rental housing can prove costly for landlords. Fortunately, these mistakes can be avoided:
In the text of rental ads, don’t attempt to describe the “right” tenant. Focus solely on a description of the property;
Remain open-minded about who applies. Landlords who wait for the person they envision inevitably turn away perfectly good prospects while renting to someone who only appears to be qualified;
Don’t hold back on details. Include the amount of rent, the size and location of the property, availability of parking, smoking and pet rules, and similar requirements, and state that a tenant background check is required, so prospective tenants can self-qualify. This serves to turn down the volume on calls from unqualified prospects — and allows landlords to focus on screening the qualified ones; and,
Screen applicants solely on relevant qualifications — sufficient income, financial responsibility, and good rental history.