The affordable rental housing crisis in Ontario has forced many people to compete for the few places they can afford. Renters shouldn’t be forced into such situations, but many wonder how to make their rental application stand out. One way to do this is by including a renter cover letter with your application.
Before writing your renter cover letter, it’s important to understand how some information that you provide could be used to discriminate against you, potentially leading to a rejection of your rental application.
To help avoid discriminatory outcomes, the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR) has developed this toolkit, including two cover letter templates, to help you put your best foot forward, while avoiding some of the pitfalls that can impact your rental application.
- What a renter cover letter is and why it can help.
- Types of information landlords are allowed to request from prospective tenants.
- Types of information that could lead to a discriminatory outcome.
- What to do if you are asked discriminatory questions.
- Types of information that you may want to include or exclude from your letter.
- Two renter cover letter templates
1. What a renter cover letter is and why it can help
A renter cover letter is a way to introduce yourself to a landlord, and to tell them what makes you the tenant they should consider.
Our sample letters outline the types of information that landlords often request from prospective tenants, as well as some helpful information that you may want to provide to help your application stand out:
- Contact information
- Your rental objective
- Information about yourself
- Rental history and references
- Credit history
- Proof of income
Unfortunately, there are very few affordable rental homes in Ontario for those living on lower incomes. Many renters are forced to compete with one another for the few places they can afford. Renters should not be forced into such situations, and the long-term solution is for our governments to solve the housing crisis and provide more deeply affordable housing options.
In addition to a lack of affordable housing, discrimination in housing is also unfortunately still present in Ontario. Sometimes, landlords’ or property managers’ prejudices can lead them to deny an apartment to a household inappropriately.
It is important to note that a cover letter will not change discriminatory behaviours or systemic discrimination. Ending discrimination on a systemic level requires cultural shifts in attitudes and better legal protections.
In the meantime, as we work to bring about systemic change, CCHR has designed this renter cover letter toolkit to help you put your best foot forward, while potentially avoiding some of the pitfalls that can impact your application to rent. You should consider our templates as rough guides which should be personalized with the information you are comfortable providing.
2. Types of information that landlords are allowed to request from prospective tenants
The Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on many grounds, and it also provides rules on what a landlord is allowed to ask a renter about, with the aim of reducing discrimination.
The Code makes it illegal for landlords and property managers to discriminate against renters on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability and the receipt of public assistance. It is unlawful to discriminate against people in these groups even when they are applying for a place to rent.
In CCHR’s 2009 report, Sorry, it’s Rented, we found that discrimination in housing was widespread, affecting 14% to 34% of renters looking for a home to rent. Our study also found that where renters are members of more than one minority group, they face greater discrimination.
At the same time, the Code protects tenants by stating that, according to law, landlords are only allowed to ask potential renters for:
- credit references
- rental history information
- credit checks
A credit reference is often a credit check but could also be a letter from a lender or acquaintance who can speak to a tenant’s credibility. Landlords are also allowed to ask about income information – but only after asking about the first three pieces of information. Income information can include information about the amount, source and steadiness of a potential tenant’s income.
3. Types of information that could lead to a discriminatory outcome
Sometimes, even the information that landlords are explicitly allowed to request can be used in a discriminatory way. For example:
- Credit checks can have a discriminatory effect on recent immigrants or young people, who won’t have a significant Canadian credit history.
- The income source can reveal that someone receives public assistance.
- The income amount can lead to landlords applying rent to income ratios; however, rent to income ratios have been found to be discriminatory against large numbers of disadvantaged people, in part because these ratios do not take into account all the various resources that renters may have at their disposal.
So, while landlords may use this information in deciding who to rent to, they must take care to not apply the information in a way that tends to systematically exclude particular groups. This can be especially true in places with a shortage of housing options, where landlords can choose who to rent to within a large pool of applicants.
4. What to do if you are asked discriminatory questions
A landlord is not permitted to use information about a protected characteristic (like gender, disability, sexuality, race or whether an applicant receives public assistance) to deny someone a place to rent. They also should not ask questions that give them information about those traits. If a landlord does ask a question that suggests they may illegally discriminate, you can use several potential responses.
- Point out the discriminatory conduct and decline to answer. If you are asked a question dealing with any of the grounds of discrimination you can highlight to the landlord that the question seems irrelevant or discriminatory and that you would prefer not to answer that question.
- Answer the question. It is an option to simply answer the question.
- Evade and deflect – change the topic. If you are asked whether you receive social assistance, you might say something like, “My income is very steady, I am great at budgeting and have never missed a rent payment. What are the available methods to pay rent?”
Since landlords should not ask discriminatory questions, some advocates say those landlords are not owed a truthful answer. The decision of whether to be deceitful during the tenancy application process is a matter of individual conscience; however, there are risks to lying during a tenancy application and CERA does not condone being deceitful. Tenants thinking about being dishonest during a tenancy application should get legal advice about the risks of doing so.
In any of the above situations, it is prudent to take notes about the questions that you are asked so that you have evidence if you later want to complain about discriminatory conduct.
5. Types of information you may want to include or exclude from your letter
Since it is difficult to find an affordable place to live, renters should consider what type of housing search will work best for them. A renter who provides only the basic information that landlords are allowed to request under the Human Rights Code may be protected against discrimination, but they may have a harder time convincing non-discriminatory landlords to rent to them. In these instances, you may want to opt to provide more information, but this may lead to rejection of your application for discriminatory reasons, which is often hard to prove. Deciding what information to share is a very personal decision.
To account for this, we have produced two cover letter templates that can be adapted for many situations.
The following are key types of information that we have included in our templates.
Make sure to include your own email address and phone number, and any other contact information you are comfortable sharing.
This should be a brief 2-3 sentence statement about your goals in looking for a new rental. Talk about what you’re looking for, what your long-term goals are and why you are a good fit to live in this rental unit.
This section is where you can introduce yourself. You can talk about your background and why you are moving, and if you have any pets or roommates. Try to include flattering information that makes you stand out, like being someone who is quiet, tidy and responsible. You may also include any accessibility accommodations you may need; however, this information could be used in a discriminatory way, and so you may choose to leave out this information.
Rental history and references
Include details about your rental history, including address, relevant dates, rent, and reasons for moving. Make sure you include your current / previous landlord’s contact information unless you do not want your new landlord contacting them. Include the names and contact information of 2-3 positive references. Former landlord references are best, but if those are not available, consider asking trusted employers, teachers or co-workers. You may also consider attaching a separate sheet with your rental history. Such a sheet may look like this:
My rental history:
|Address||Time Period||Monthly Rent||Reason for Moving||Landlord||Contact information|
|12 Sesame Street, Toronto||2013-2021||$1020||Change of Job||Patty Smith||416-555-1111 Pattyfirstname.lastname@example.org|
Landlords are allowed to ask for credit references and credit checks. You can order your credit report and score for free from one of Canada’s two credit reporting agencies. Credit references can include letters from business partners, or others who have made loans to you, or any other information that shows the landlord that you will pay your rent and other costs regularly. If you get a credit report, you can include it with your resume.
Proof of income
Once landlords have asked for rental and credit references, they are also allowed to ask for income information. The Human Rights Tribunal has held that landlords can ask for information like the amount, source and steadiness of a potential tenant’s income. Including this information in your renter’s cover letter allows you to frame that information in a way that works best for you. At a minimum, you should provide the current income your household receives, anything beyond that is your choice to disclose. You can also provide proof of income or make it available upon request. Proof of income could include pay slips/stubs, or an employment letter; but it can also include three months of bank statements. Sensitive information like the account number or your expenses can be blacked out by for instance photocopying a version that you have crossed out with a permanent marker.
In your conclusion you can summarize your objective again: that you are a tenant looking for a good apartment and are best suited to live in this home.
6. Two Renter Cover Letter Templates
We have produced two cover letter templates that can be adapted for many situations. Check out our two templates and pick the one that is right for you:
This template includes lots of information that a landlord may request or be concerned with.
This template includes the minimum information that landlords are allowed to request under the Human Rights Code.