Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario awards compensation to tenant whose landlord “made her personal life a misery”
- July 24, 2017
In Gricken v Andriano, 2017 HRTO 698, Janice Gricken brought an application before the HRTO alleging discrimination with respect to housing based on sex, age, and perceived receipt of public assistance, as well as reprisal, contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code. The application was made against Ms. Gricken’s landlord, Jacques Andriano.
Ms. Gricken has been a tenant of Mr. Andriano’s for over three years, during which time he “made her personal life a misery” (Decision, paragraph 61). Although the landlord initially responded to the human rights application, he failed to show up to the hearing.
The Tribunal accepted Ms. Gricken’s evidence regarding a pattern of discrimination and harassment, including:
- Sex-based insults and profanity in front of strangers, friends, and neighbours;
- Threats against Ms. Gricken, including threats of eviction;
- Comments made to Ms. Gricken’s roommate, in reference to Ms. Gricken, that “women are crazy”;
- Consistent refusal to make necessary repairs to Ms. Gricken’s apartment unit, in an effort to cause Ms. Gricken to move out;
- Rude comments about Ms. Gricken’s age and the perception that she relied on “welfare cheques”;
- Theft of Ms. Gricken’s personal belongings from the apartment complex hallway; and
- Obscene gestures made to humiliate Ms. Gricken.
After Ms. Gricken brought her application before the HRTO, Mr. Andriano’s attitude intensified. The Tribunal found that Mr. Andriano retaliated against her, constituting reprisal as prohibited under the Code. In particular, after the application was filed, Mr. Andriano vandalized Ms. Gricken’s bicycle on multiple occasions, issued unfounded rent and eviction notices, and refused requests for repairs. In a welcome finding, the Tribunal held that, though some of Mr. Andriano’s conduct occurred both before and after the application was filed, the intensifying of his “acrimonious attitude” was still grounds for a finding of retaliation (Decision, paragraph 67).
The Tribunal also commented on the particularly vulnerable position of tenants in relation to their landlords. It affirmed unequivocally that tenants can reasonably expect to live in their homes without threats, condemnation, or humiliation.
Where a landlord refuses to respect the human rights of his or her tenants, the Tribunal has demonstrated that recovery is possible. Ms. Gricken was awarded $20,000 in compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect. As a public interest remedy, Mr. Andriano was ordered to complete human rights training and adopt a written human rights policy for the building within three months.
This decision comes a few months after the Ontario Superior Court held that an independent tort of harassment, not based on a Code-protected ground, was actionable in Ontario. The Court in Merrifield v The Attorney General, 2017 ONSC 1333, provided a detailed analysis of the elements of a harassment claim, and ultimately awarded $141,000 in damages to Sergeant Merrifield of the RCMP for the harassment he experienced. You can read bakerlaw’s blog post about this decision here (link).
The full text of the Gricken decision can be found here (link).
Update: In 2019, the Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA) overturned the Superior Court’s decision in Merrifield. The Court of Appeal ruled that there is currently no basis for the tort of harassment. However, this decision does not mean that employers are released from their duty to create a safe and harassment free workplace. Workplaces must continue to provide harassment free environments, and employees may still have recourse through the Ontario Human Rights Code if they experience harassment or poisoned workplace environments. You can read the Court of Appeal’s decision here (link).