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Couple looked ‘unkempt’: realtor

BC tribunal orders Davie St realtor to pay damages

Bruce McDonald alleges Peter Dobrovich-Schuster refused to rent to him because he's HIV-positive. Credit: Matt Mills photo

A gay, former Vancouver man was awarded $2,500 in damages last month, after the BC Human Rights Tribunal found he was discriminated against by a prospective landlord who refused to rent to him because he has AIDS.

According to the tribunal’s Apr 22 decision, Bruce McDonald and his partner, Ron Sabey, had been searching for a two-bedroom apartment on Dec 28, 2002 when they saw a suite available at 1110 Davie St.

The vacating tenant gave the couple the number of Peter Dobrovich-Schuster of Schuster Real Estate.

McDonald called Dobrovich-Schuster to inquire about the suite. Dobrovich-Schuster asked him what he and his partner did for a living and McDonald said they were on disability pensions, McDonald told the tribunal hearing in March.

Dobrovich-Schuster then asked him what the disability was.

Before McDonald could tell Dobrovich-Schuster it was none of his business, the realtor “interrupted and said that he hoped it was not AIDS as he had no intention of running a hostel,” the tribunal found.

Both Sabey and McDonald have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Despite the comment, the couple made arrangements to view the suite and to meet with Dobrovich-Schuster at his office, since two-bedroom apartments were hard to find at that time, McDonald told the tribunal.

When the couple arrived at the office and attempted to sit on the two chairs before Dobrovich-Schuster’s desk, the realtor ushered them instead to a couch behind the chairs.

McDonald said he got the impression Dobrovich-Schuster was afraid he would catch something from them. His partner agreed.

“Mr Sabey said that during the interview Mr Dobrovich-Schuster’s attitude made him feel like they were pariahs or lepers,” the tribunal found.

They then viewed the suite, which was in need of repair.

Dobrovich-Schuster said he would get back to them.

He never did.

After talking with advocates from the BC Persons with AIDS Society, the couple decided to file a human rights complaint.

In a reply to the allegations, Dobrovich-Schuster wrote: “I did not call back because the persons looked unkempt and I might lose existing tenants. The disability had nothing to do with my decision not to respond.

“Since I have very nice tenants in my building, I am trying to keep up the standards and am not risking that my present tenants leave,” he added.

Sabey and McDonald both deny they looked unkempt.

A witness called before the tribunal backed them up, saying she thought Dobrovich-Schuster needed glasses as McDonald was far from unkempt.

In rendering her decision, tribunal member Barbara Junker said she did not accept Dobrovich-Schuster’s “unkempt” explanation for his actions.

“I find that it was clear from the evidence that Mr Dobrovich-Schuster did not want to rent to anyone with AIDS and that the reason he did not want to rent to Mr McDonald and Mr Sabey is because he believed they were HIV-positive,” she ruled.

Junker noted that having AIDS or HIV counts as a physical disability and is therefore protected from discrimination under the BC Human Rights Code. Under the code, landlords are not allowed to refuse to rent to prospective tenants simply because they have a disability such as AIDS.

“The refusal to rent to a person because they have AIDS is the kind of discriminatory conduct that the code aims to eradicate,” she wrote.

“Mr McDonald was vulnerable because of his disability to derogatory comments and conduct and I find that he suffered considerable injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect,” Junker added.

But, she went further.

She found Dobrovich-Schuster’s behaviour on the phone and in person rude. And, she added, he continued to be offensive by describing them as unkempt in his response to the allegations.

McDonald told Xtra West he was pleased with the ruling.

“You can’t say that to people,” he said. “I couldn’t let it ride and let him do it to somebody else.”

Despite repeated calls, Dobrovich-Schuster could not be reached for comment.

Schuster Real Estate Co now operates as Schuster Land Corp at 1110 Davie St.