Bedbugs (Part Two)

In the case of Caster and Hearthstone Community Services Ltd., the resident was claiming discrimination as a result of adverse treatment due to a bedbug infestation in his unit. The Human Rights Tribunal determined that it does not regard a bedbug infestation as a “disability” under the Human Rights Code.

The Tribunal noted the distinction between having a bedbug infestation in the unit, and having experienced adverse treatment as a result of being bitten by bedbugs. The Tribunal noted that a “disability” requires some degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement, caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness. Despite the applicant having experienced bedbug bites as a result of the infestation, he had not claimed discrimination because of the bites; rather, his claim was based on the infestation of his unit. As a result, the claim was denied. The Tribunal noted that there was some evidence that a bedbug infestation might manifest itself through ‘bites, bumps or rashes on the body’ that could be regarded as some degree of disfigurement caused by bodily injury. However, that was not the basis of the claim in the Caster case.

What can we learn from the case?

As stated in our earlier bedbug blog, these pests can infest any home; no one is immune to the possibility of having bedbugs in their unit. Since the tribunal was not faced with having to determine whether a disability existed as a result of being bitten by bedbugs, there is still a possibility that a human rights claim could perhaps be brought against a condominium corporation as a result of treatment of a person suffering from bedbug bites, albeit not simply as a result of an infestation. It is likely that an individual would have to be treated adversely as a result of the physical state of being bitten by the bedbugs in order to be successful in a claim of discrimination.

Although the Tribunal decided that a unit infestation was not a disability, this author believes that if an owner or resident experienced adverse treatment by someone, on behalf of the condominium corporation, who had knowledge of the bedbug infestation, in combination with that person having any visible bites, then the Tribunal might determine that the combination of the two circumstances could support a claim under the Human Rights Code, especially if there were other protected grounds identified in the complaint, such as mental health issues.

The bottom line is that in the case of a bedbug infestation, it’s important to treat the resident with fairness and dignity; whether or not the resident may be responsible for the cost to eliminate the infestation.