In 2011, I was looking to buy a home for me and my elementary-school aged daughter. I’d decided that a condo made the most sense for the two of us, and I was seeking a two-bedroom place that was central, well-constructed and homey. My real estate agent showed me a place that fit everything I was looking for: the price was right, the building was solid, and the location – a block off Whyte Ave near Gateway Boulevard – couldn’t be beat. There was only one problem – I was a parent and the condo board prohibited people under 18 from living in the building. My agent suggested I could get around this problem by just smuggling my daughter in and out through the back door, and trusting the neighbours not to turn me in. However, if the other owner-occupiers did turn me in for harboring a child, I would have to be prepared to sell and leave.
My reaction to this news was probably the same reaction most parents would have; I was very bothered. If my daughter wasn’t welcome in the building, I would take my business elsewhere, as I did not view her as a second-class citizen. I was not at all pleased when I then realised that this situation was far from exceptional – many, if not most, of the condo developments I was considering to purchase prohibited children, and apparently this was actually legal in Alberta. Fortunately for me, I bought a condo that was exactly what I wanted, just a few blocks from the first building I had looked at where my child wasn’t allowed to live.
I was lucky because I had the financial means to buy my way out of this problem, and the time to wait until something really good came on the market. But not every parent in my situation has the ability to shop around. Parents on low or fixed incomes, or parents who have to leave their previous living situations in a hurry are up against a formidable obstacle when landlords and builders can legally discriminate against people with children. These parents may have to accept substandard living conditions or pay much more than they can afford in order to find a home.
This is a very gendered problem. The majority of low-income single parents are women with children, for whom housing is a major hurdle in trying to become economically self-sufficient. Parents who are escaping abusive or dangerous situations are also especially vulnerable, because they may be trapped living somewhere unsafe if there’s nowhere they can take their kids.
These reasons, plus my own personal experience, are why I believe that landlords, developers and condo board should not be allowed to prohibit children from living in their properties. I recognize that there are some special housing circumstances where it would not be appropriate for children to live, such as “halfway houses” for people getting out of prison or drug treatment, or assisted living facilities for people with disabilities, and I have no problem with exempting these facilities and allowing them to specify their clientele. But when it comes to ordinary rental or condo buildings like the one I live in, there is no justification for banning people with children.
It’s true that children can make noise. So can adults. I’m not aware that young children are inherently noisier or more disruptive than people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. Rental buildings and condo developments already have the tools for dealing with disruptive occupants, in the form of bylaws and regulations around behavior and disturbances. If a family with children is disruptive, they can be dealt with the same way any other tenant is dealt with. This isn’t a reason for letting landlords and developers ban children.
I would like to live in a city where families are welcomed and encouraged to put down roots. I would like to live in a city where neighbourhood revitalization is driven by the presence of people of all ages. And I would like to live in a city in which we don’t discriminate on the basis of family status, just like we don’t discriminate on the basis of race or gender or religion. That’s why I support an end to age discrimination in housing in Alberta.
Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta, and the mother of a twelve-year-old daughter. She has lived in apartments, condos and houses in eleven different cities before making making Edmonton home.