In the words of former UN Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik, “Security of tenure is understood as a set of relationships with respect to housing and land, established through statutory or customary law or informal or hybrid arrangements, that enables one to live in one’s home in security, peace and dignity.” Simply put, it refers to a person’s ability to remain in their home long term. Security of tenure is a crucial part of the right to adequate housing in international law, and that right is now recognized in Canadian law thanks to the National Housing Strategy Act.

Unfortunately, in Canada and around the world, security of tenure is undermined from many different sides, especially for renters. To better understand the issues, the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate commissioned a series of seven reports looking at the issue of security of tenure in Canada from various angles. The goal of this blog is to provide a brief overview of these reports and feature a couple of their main conclusions and recommendations.

One of the main way tenants’ security of tenure is violated is through eviction. Evictions can be either formal, which involves a tribunal hearing, or informal, by essentially pressuring or paying the tenant to leave. As Sarah Buhler writes in her report, The Right to Counsel for Tenants Facing Eviction, “the loss of housing through eviction can have devastating and long-lasting consequences.” She goes on to say:

Eviction is associated with poor self-reported health, higher rates of cardiovascular disease, poor maternal and child health outcomes, and higher mortality rates. Research has shown that people who are evicted have higher rates of emergency room visits as compared to members of non-evicted households. Eviction is also associated with negative mental health outcomes for those who experience it, including depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and suicide.

And these harms are tragically common. As Buhler explains, tenants in Canada too often do not have access to a full and fair legal process. The power dynamics in tribunals are deeply uneven, and eviction adjudicators routinely fail to take human rights into consideration. To remedy this, she proposes creating a right to representation for tenants facing eviction, which would mean the government would need to support tenants in having a lawyer or paralegal to advise them during eviction proceedings.

In their report, International Jurisprudence, the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR) summarizes five international evictions cases heard by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Using the Committee’s findings, the CCHR recommends creating federal minimum standards for security of tenure in order to comply with Canada’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Martin Gallié’s report, Eviction and International Obligations, builds on this point about Canada’s commitments and outlines four specific obligations of the federal government under international human rights law. The first is to develop an eviction prevention policy. The second is the right to a fair trial, which, as Buhler made clear, is anything but a given in eviction proceedings.  The third is to apply the principle of proportionality, meaning tribunals would have to take into consideration the harm that eviction causes to tenants and not just the contractual rights of landlords. And finally, the obligation to provide rehousing following an eviction. He emphasizes these measures have been in force for years across Europe and could be implemented here at minimal cost.

Racialized people in Canada face specific challenges in enjoying their right to security of tenure, Priya Gupta explains in Race and Security of Housing. These challenges are related to the displacement and discrimination racialized individuals, households and communities face. She provides several historic and contemporary examples of how this displacement is made legal, including the destruction of the Black community known as Africville in Halifax. Gupta goes on to examine legal commitments and human rights protections available for racialized people in order to close with paths to reform. “As an initial undertaking, this report proposes that the Advocate generate race-based data on housing nationwide and establish race-specific assessments and protections in relation to development (urban, infrastructural, and other forms), displacement, expropriation, and dispossession,” she writes.

“The existence of many common systemic barriers continues to limit the options First Nations people have to access safe, affordable housing, whether on or off First Nation reserves,” explains Alan Hanna in Systemic Barriers for First Nations People. All levels of government—from federal to First Nations governments—take actions that directly affect the security of tenure of First Nations people. These complex jurisdictions make resolving the shortage of adequate housing on reserve and addressing First Nations homelessness off-reserve much more difficult. This report provides a concise history of how the current situation came to be and offers rights-based solutions based on Canada’s obligations under United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

In Issues for Persons with Disabilities, Luke Reid confronts the many distinct challenges persons with disabilities face in terms of security of tenure. “Persons with disabilities often experience challenges in this arena because their right to security of tenure depends on the realization of several other interrelated rights, which are improperly enforced, ignored, or narrowly interpreted.” This report examines the roles of building codes, residential tenancy legislation, and common violations of human rights legislation in undermining security of tenure for persons with disabilities.

Finally, Estair Van Wagner tackles two areas where the federal government has direct jurisdiction over housing: in encampments on federal land and in Indigenous communities. In Federal Obligations and Encampments, she explores the federal government’s “clear jurisdiction and corresponding obligations” when there are encampments on federal land (building on her previous work on the subject). “Indigenous people are not only overrepresented in the population experiencing homelessness; they are also disproportionately unsheltered and living in encampments,” she writes. Federal leadership will be crucial in implementing a holistic approach to Indigenous homelessness and “realizing the necessary transformation of the relationship between colonial governments and Indigenous Peoples.”

Taken together, these seven reports provide a clear path forward for strengthening security of tenure in Canada. With the new role of the Federal Housing Advocate, these perspectives finally have a voice within the federal government. The Advocate’s ability to launch reviews of systemic issues, commission research, and advise the government means she is well positioned to fill knowledge gaps and chart a path forward. In a context of rising rents across Canada, respect for the basic rights of tenants to adequate housing with security of tenure could not be more timely.

The full series of reports is available on the Homeless Hub.

For a detailed overview of the reports, check out the summary report.