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Renting to Newcomers

As a landlord, you have the right to choose a tenant using income information, credit checks, credit references, rental history, and guarantees.  However, you cannot select or refuse tenants based on race, place of origin, ethnic origin, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, marital status, family status (e.g. children) or disability. (See below for example of discrimination and exploitation.)

When it comes to an application from a recent arrived refugee or immigrant household, there is limited historical information to base a decision on.  Newcomers face challenges in all facets of the settlement process.  In regards to housing, a lack of language proficiency makes the search for housing difficult and can also lead to misunderstandings of lease agreements and obligations.  Generally, newcomers need the time, resources and opportunity to improve their language skills.  However, they are often forced to enter the work force too early to “make a living”, thus do not have the time to improve their skills.  Furthermore, newcomers face several structural barriers in the marketplace, such as high housing costs, a limited supply of social housing with long waiting lists, and low vacancy rates in the private rental market, which is all exacerbated by social assistance rates that have not kept pace with costs.

A common complaint is that often newcomers sign housing agreements they could not read or understand, only to find out later they had signed a one-year lease, tying them to housing they are not happy with. Most newcomers do not know about tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities, or where to learn that information. As a vulnerable, marginalized population this puts them at even greater risk of exploitation.



A new immigrant will not likely have a credit history here so there will be no credit report.  In fact, it takes almost a year to have a reasonable credit report.  Newcomers are often sponsored or have strong connections within the community.  Therefore it is not unreasonable to ask an applicant if they can find a co-signer.  A co-signer is a person who can assure the rental agreement.  If the tenant defaults on payment, the co-signer will be responsible to pay.

Formal settlement supports include professional settlement counsellors, housing counselors and others working in settlement agencies and organizations that provide services for newcomers.  Settlement agencies welcome newly arrived refugees and claimants and assist them with their settlement and integration process.  Their role is to provide the necessary information, referral, and support to help the newcomers achieve their goals.  In Winnipeg you can find support in the following areas:


The Friendship Partner Match: This program, organized by the International Centre, matched each newcomer with a long time Winnipeg resident who acted as a friend, information resource, social support, cultural advisor, etc.  The Friendship Partner helps in many ways and provides support and guidance through rough times.

Religious Communities: For many participants, religious establishments, such as churches, are pivotal support organizations and a place to meet friends and receive help with everything from housing to purchasing clothes. For some a religious community can become “their family”, or their main source of spiritual and emotional support and guidance.

Manitoba Refugee Sponsors:  A coordinating body that: Exchange information about how best to sponsor refugees; clarifies issues that affect the settlement of privately sponsored refugee newcomers; advocates on behalf of privately sponsored refugees; promotes activities that support sponsoring groups.  MRS is coordinated by the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

Neighbourhood Settlement WorkersThere are approximately 10 Winnipeg neighbourhoods that have settlement workers to welcome families and help get adjusted, involved and find the help they need.  Click here for the list.


Excerpt of a case study in discrimination and exploitation

From:  The Housing Circumstances of Recently Arrived Refugees:  The Winnipeg Experience

The Household:  Government sponsored family of seven.  Six dependents ranging in age from 10-22 years old relying on one wage-earner – their mom (the interviewee) – who could find only casual work as a health care aide. Income was supplemented by reliance on a foodbank, child tax benefits and social assistance. They also sent money to family members in refugee camps who otherwise would go without food or water for days at a time.

Relationship with Caretaker:  Once a month, the caretaker would visit to collect the rent. Each time, the family reminded the caretaker of the repairs that were needed, and each time the caretaker assured them all would be fixed, but would not been seen again until the next month. The family told the caretaker about a broken window in the fall and it didn’t get fixed until spring. A few times the caretaker put tape and clamps on leaking pipes, but it never held and the pipes were never fixed.

Relationship with Landlord:  Once the bank accidentally deposited the interviewee’s pay cheque into someone else’s account, so the rent cheque bounced, but she wasn’t informed.  Two weeks later the landlord called and, through curse words, threatened eviction unless the rent was paid that day. While the mother was gone to the bank, the landlord went to the house and told the kids to pack up and move out because he was locking them out.


One year later…  Conditions did not improve where they were living: their relationship with their landlord did not improve, repairs were still not made, one of the boys was badly beaten up, and the interviewee was almost raped. Two months after the interview, five of the family members moved into a two-bedroom townhouse. The unit was filthy with pet urine in the carpets, food and garbage left behind in the fridge, stove, and cupboards. The bugs and flies were so bad they couldn’t sleep at night. They went to the manager’s unit to complain, but the manager would look through the curtains but not talk to them. Finally the interviewee ran into the manager outside, and told her that they needed the place cleaned. The manager said she couldn’t find anyone to come and clean. After living there a total of six days, the family moved just down the street to another 2 bedroom unit, but for almost $200 a month more. Shortly after they moved, the interviewee saw that there were cleaners in their previous place and they were replacing the appliances in the unit. She met the new tenant, a young white woman, and made the observation “They think that because we come from Africa that we are used to filth and garbage and that we’ll live with it because we don’t know better. As soon as a white person wants to rent, they clean the place up.” The interviewee took the matter to the tenants’ board and received the full month’s rent plus the damage deposit back.

The family lived in the two-bedroom apartment for almost a year. Whenever the manager dropped by she would rave about how clean the family was keeping the unit, and even commented that they would have no trouble getting their damage deposit back. But when it came time to move, the new manager made excuses to not be available for the move-out inspection. When the interviewee finally saw him, he said that the apartment looked fine. He had a blank inspection form that he had her sign and told her that he would send her the deposit cheque. But what the interviewee received in the mail instead was not a cheque, but a copy of the inspection form she had signed which now had comments indicating that the unit was dirty and that she returned the wrong key, so she would not receive the damage deposit back. The interviewee, once again, had taken the matter to the tenants’ board for resolution.