Landlord Says ‘Asian Only’ On Craigslist Rental Ad, Is It Legal?

Craigslist Asian only ad

A Canadian landlord is in hot water for posting a Craigslist ad requesting “Asian only” tenants, CTV News is reporting.

Natalie Schulz was checking out the “Rentals” section of the Vancouver Craigslist site when she saw a listing that caught her eye: a 3-bedroom apartment in the Vancouver suburb of Barnaby for $1,500 (Canadian) per month (about $1,175 USD).

craigslist asian only
Schulz called the number listed on the ad hoping to get some more information about the property. Instead, she got the third degree, with the agent asking her some rather personal questions.

“The man asked me what ethnicity I was and I asked him why that was important. He told me they had white people before and they had been partying and doing drugs.”

The man who answered Natalie’s call that day is identified as Yi Zhou. Zhou is not the landlord — instead, he wrote the ad, and took calls from prospective tenants, because the actual landlord doesn’t speak much English.

And as for the reason why the landlord specified “Asian only” on his Craigslist ad?

“There was white people partying every day and doing drugs, that guy couldn’t communicate with him. From that moment the owner said maybe just find Asian people so he can talk to them.”

At this point it bears noting that specifying “Asian only” and saying it’s because you don’t want a language problem is a somewhat flimsy excuse. Thousands of languages are spoken by Asian people; you could specify you want an Asian tenant and get one who speaks Tamil, Mandarin, Japanese, or any number of other languages.

Zhou seems to realize that he could have chosen his words better when he placed the ad.

“I realize this ad is not good.”

Under Canadian law, it is, in fact, not illegal to post an ad on Craigslist specifying you only want Asian — or white or black or whatever ethnicity — tenants. That’s considered free speech, which is protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Asian only craigslist
What you can’t do is actually deny someone a room based on their ethnicity, according to Robyn Durling of the British Columbia Human Rights Clinic.

“What’s illegal is if you deny somebody the right to rent based on their ethnicity or their race. That is illegal.”

That’s a fine distinction, to be sure, but as far as Craigslist rental ads go, it may work, inasmuch as some possible tenants may skip over ads for rentals if they don’t meet the qualifications, even though those “qualifications” are illegal.

However, should a landlord deny you rental because of your ethnicity, you could take him to court and use his Craigslist ads against him, as evidence that he has a pattern of discrimination.

Under British Columbia law, there are, in fact, exceptions to the rules against denying housing based on ethnicity or other factors. For example, if you’re looking for a roommate, you can specify whom you want — a person of a specific sex or even ethnicity, for example — if you’re going to be sharing living space such as bathrooms or sleeping spaces.

For Natalie Schulz, however, all of this discussion is moot: the apartment that started it all has been rented — to an Asian tenant, no less. But, similar ads specifying “Asian only” tenants remain up on Craigslist, as of this writing.

Do you think a landlord should be allowed to specify what ethnicity he wants in his tenants on a Craigslist ad?

[Image via Shutterstock/Gil C]