05/27/2015 06:43 EDT | Updated 05/27/2016 05:59 EDT

B.C. landlord fined for not renting to depressed woman

A woman who failed to prove she actually has a mental disability has been awarded $2,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after claiming a landlord wouldn't rent to her because she appeared to suffer from depression.

In an unusual ruling, the tribunal awarded Caroline Flak compensation for "injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect."

The landlord, Nattanya Andersen, didn't respond to the complaint or attend the hearing.

Ironically, Andersen has been an outspoken advocate for mental health education in light of her own battle with post-traumatic stress disorder as a flight attendant.

"I find, on the balance of probabilities, that Ms. Andersen perceived Ms. Flak to suffer from depression," wrote tribunal member Norman Trerise.

"That perception was at least a factor, if not the sole cause, of her refusal to allow Ms. Flak to rent her suite."

Admits to depression

The only evidence Flak provided of a mental disability was the second page of a letter signed by an occupational therapist on the letterhead of Burnaby Psychiatric Services; it was written in 1996.

She told the tribunal she met Andersen after responding to a Craigslist advertisement for a rental suite in February 2014.

"[Flak] was looking for new living quarters, mainly to escape the Wi-Fi and smart meter," Trerise wrote.

After viewing the suite, Flak said she told Andersen she was interested. 

She claimed she then told her prospective landlord that she was on disability.

"According to Ms. Flak, Ms. Andersen then asked what she was on disability for and that she responded, 'Depression.'" Trerise wrote.

"She says that there was a silence from Ms. Andersen and that she eventually spoke and she said, 'You go think about it.'"

The next morning, Flak received an email from Andersen saying she needed more time to prepare the suite for rental.

Perceived disabilities

Flak said she asked Andersen to tell her when the suite was available; she claimed she was then surprised at the end of June to find out Andersen has rented it to someone else.

In the ruling, Trerise said while Flak didn't provide enough evidence to establish that she suffered from a mental disability, the B.C. Human Rights Code extends to "perceived as well as actual disabilities."

He gave Flak an award on the low end of the tribunal's scale because she didn't suffer any financial loss, retained her original living quarters and provided "virtually no evidence of an emotional response" to the incident.

Andersen could not be reached for comment. Trerise noted that she failed to file a response after the complaint was posted to her door.

In 1999, Andersen published a memoir called Broken Wings: A Flight Attendant's Journey.

In the book, she detailed her diagnosis of PTSD after being aboard a jet when there was an engine explosion in mid-air.