Tenant who paid no rent wins $1,100 award from B.C. Human Rights Tribunal
A tenant on income assistance has won a human-rights case against his landlord even though he is a "disorganized and somewhat self-aggrandizing historian" who paid no rent, according to the ruling.
The chair of the tribunal, Bernd Walter, awarded Norbert Desjarlais $1,100 as compensation under the Human Rights Code for "injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect" for being evicted in part because he was on welfare.
"Mr. Desjarlais appeared to have no understanding of the Tribunal's process, the nature of a hearing, the concept of evidence, or the elements of a complaint of discrimination under the Code," Walter wrote in his ruling. "He cited no authorities in support of his complaint or any remedy."
In addition, Desjarlais showed up late for his hearing and didn't bring relevant documents or evidence, despite earlier telling the tribunal that he would call two witnesses. That prompted Walter to give him a chance to return after a recess.
According to Walter's decision, Desjarlais later explained that he had been "light-headed due to low blood sugar".
After the evidentiary hearing concluded, Desjarlais made closing submissions and walked out of the room before the respondents, David Kanganilage and Rukmanie Samaranayaka, could offer their rebuttal.
Walter wrote that he would have "seriously considered awarding costs against Mr. Desjarlais on the basis of his conduct"—even though his complaint was upheld.
"He frequently referred to himself as an aboriginal person, a 'high achiever', a community activist and advocate, a legal academic and someone who was embarrassed or ashamed that he was in receipt of social welfare benefits," Walter added.
The ruling noted that Desjarlais asserted that he graduated from the UBC law school in 1995 and worked for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada until 2002. He also stated that he opened a restaurant in 2000.
"Mr. Desjarlais says that in 2003, he slipped and fell outside a Starbuck's store and sustained a serious lumbar spine injury," Walter noted. "Despite 'horrendous' pain and discomfort, Mr. Desjarlais did not have surgery, but was maintained on a regimen of painkillers, which he says he did not like to consume."
In 2004, Desjarlais stated that he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a mood disorder, and depression.
When he rented a suite in 2009, Samaranayaka filled out the residential tenancy agreement, and then turned it over to Desjarlais to fill in on his own.
According to the ruling, this enabled Desjarlais to fax it to the Ministry of Social Development to demonstrate he had a home, so he could collect shelter benefits.
"I consider Ms. Samaranayaka's willingness to sign the document an incredibly trusting, if naive, gesture, toward an individual she had, in fact, never met," Walter wrote. "As things turned out. Ms. Samaranayaka never saw Mr. Desjarlais again."
Desjarlais paid $200 toward the damage deposit, but nothing else and no rent, Walter noted. The two parties disagreed on the rent: the tenant said it was $400, whereas the landlords said it was $450.
Desjarlais claimed that when he was visiting a Ministry of Social Development office, he overheard Samaranayaka on a speaker phone asking if he was "dangerous" or "contagious", according to the ruling.
In addition, Desjarlais alleged that he overheard her saying she didn't want a tenant on welfare and to please have him forced to vacate the unit.
He submitted documents from his income-assistance file, which, according to Walter, did not support Desjarlais' account of the events. Samaranayaka claimed that the landlords "are happy to rent to people on welfare", but just want this to be "trouble-free". She also furnished evidence that a different tenant on welfare had occupied the premises.
Even though the landlords "appeared sincere", Walter added that they "were manifestly unreliable in terms of details or times".
Therefore, he concluded that he preferred Desjarlais' evidence in "key and defining areas" because it was "more in harmony with the documentary record", even though he didn't admit that he was on welfare when he rented the unit.
"I find that Mr. Dejarlais' source of income was at least a factor in the termination of the tenancy," Walter concluded. "I find Mr. Desjarlais' complaint of discrimination, on the basis of his lawful source of income, justified."
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