TORONTO — It didn’t help his case that he shared a joke about a devout Muslim on his Facebook page.
Now the small landlord who rented out the main floor of his Brampton, Ont., home to an Arab Muslim couple must pay them $12,000 for failing to accommodate their religious practices when showing their apartment to prospective tenants.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario also found that he “harassed them and created a poisoned housing environment.”
His sins? John Alabi refused to remove his shoes when showing the bedroom where the couple prayed and while he always gave them the mandated 24-hour notice before showings, he didn’t always provide the five-minute heads-up they’d requested to ensure the wife was modestly dressed and they weren’t in the midst of their five daily prayers.
“There was absolutely no evidence that the applicants’ requests for additional notice and for the removal of shoes in this case were an attempt by them to impose their way of life on the respondent or anyone else,” ruled vice chair Jo-Anne Pickel. “(They) were merely making simple requests for the accommodation of their religious practices … their requests easily could have been met without any hardship to the respondent, let alone any undue hardship as that term is used in human rights law.”
In December 2014, Walid Madkour and his wife Heba Ismail moved from Montreal into Alabi’s ground-floor apartment. Following several disputes, including the couple allegedly wanting their landlord to be quiet after 10 p.m., they agreed to terminate the lease on Feb. 28, 2015.
In the meantime, Alabi tried to rent out the unit. Madkhour wanted a one-hour notification of any showing in addition to the 24-hour notice.
Alabi told him that by law, only 24 hours was necessary. Madkhour accused him of “racism and violation of our civil rights:” Since his landlord was well aware that Ismail was unemployed and always home, “he considered it harassment for (Alabi) to continue to say that he would enter the premises without permission.”
Alabi texted back: “Welcome to Ontario, Canada.”
The landlord told the hearing that he meant that apartment viewing rules were different in Ontario than in Quebec where the couple had last lived. The human rights tribunal saw it as another example of discrimination.
That same evening, Ismail heard loud pounding on the steps outside their door; Alabi said he was just shovelling the snow; she said it was intimidating and frightening.
The couple called police.
They were told that contrary to their understanding, their landlord had a right to show the apartment when they were home. As a “courtesy,” Alabi agreed to give them five minutes notice in addition to the 24 hours. But that negotiated detente ended two days later after Ismail videotaped Alabi refusing to remove his shoes when entering their bedroom. “She said it was disrespectful and an act of racism.”
Alabi told the hearing that his shoes had never been an issue before and accused his tenants of trying to set up roadblocks to his renting their flat. He also accused them of trying to impose their way of life on him and said “the fact that someone belongs to a religion does not permit them to inconvenience others.”
The tribunal didn’t see it that way — especially after the tenants introduced their landlord’s Facebook page that had a “joke” about a devout Arab Muslim that they found offensive. Alabi told the hearing “he had freedom of speech and could post what he wanted on his Facebook page … He did not share the post to attack anyone. He said he shared it only because it made him laugh.”
Be careful what you post online — Pickel saw it as further evidence of his bias.
“When considered together, I find that the comment ‘welcome to Ontario, Canada,’ the making of loud pounding noises outside the applicants’ door shortly after making that comment, and (Alabi)’s refusal to remove his shoes when entering (their) prayer space amounted to harassment under the Code.”
In addition to paying them $6,000 each for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect, Alabi must also take an e-learning course on “Human Rights in Rental Housing.”