After her marriage broke down in 2013, Kelly Farley faced a number of challenges when looking for a place in Calgary to rent for herself and her two teen daughters. Photo courtesy Kelly Farley.

Renters with kids face uphill battle

After her marriage broke down in 2013, Kelly Farley needed to find a home to rent for her and her two teen daughters. She wanted to stay close to the northwest Calgary neighbourhood where the girls had grown up and to keep them in the same schools.

Eventually she found the main floor of a house; another tenant lived in the basement. It wasn’t the best situation, but things got worse before they were better.

The basement tenant moved out and the landlord decided to sell the house. Then, just weeks after Farley moved out, the landlord relisted the main-floor unit — for more money than Farley had been paying, and more than she could afford.

“It was a grim search and I became desperate,” said Farley of her house-hunting search. “When you have kids and you’re going through a family breakdown, as a renter, all you want to know is that you have a safe, stable place to land.”

Farley’s story is a common one – especially in Calgary’s market which has the highest residential rental rates in the country, according a Canadian Rental Housing report released in September.

Yet whether Farley was discriminated against because she had young children remains to be seen, says Linda McKay-Panos, executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.

“It happens all the time, but it’s not easy to prove,” she said. “Landlords can say, well, ‘they are more reliable or they had better references.’”

According to Service Alberta, discrimination against renters with young children is prohibited in the province. Section 5 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which deals with residential and commercial tenancy, “prohibits discrimination in the area of tenancy based on…marital status and family status,” as well as pregnancy.

Yet McKay-Panos says proving discrimination is tricky.

“The only way you can prove it is if someone with the same financial situation but without kids goes to rent the place and gets it,” she said.

Options exist for low-income renters with children, but choices are limited and waiting lists can be lengthy, admits Darren Nimegeers, spokesman for Calgary Housing Company, the city-owned corporation that manages 7,200 units of affordable housing and about 2,500 subsidized units operated by private landlords.

The organization had a waiting list of 3,657 people in September, up from 3,518 during the same time last year.

“The highest need is prioritized,” Nimegeers says. “If you are low-income, are a single parent, or have other issues, that raises your level of priority.”

Farley eventually caught a break. Acting on a tip from a friend, she signed a four-year lease on a cosy, beautiful house in northwest Calgary for rent, close to her children’s school.

“It was heaven sent,” she says with a laugh.

Farley admits she hasn’t yet lost the feeling that her new home is too good to be true – even though her children are thriving, and her new landlord is terrific.

For those two blessings, she says, she is grateful.

“I can’t afford to buy in Calgary.”