Living in rental housing with children

In Quebec, one in five families with children rents. Although there is an upside to not owning a home, there are also challenges, both big and small. Here, parents share their advice and personal experiences.


The true reality of living in rental housing with children

High rent, lack of space, noise that disturbs the neighbours... What are the main difficulties experienced by families who live in rental housing? What do they like best about renting?

By Nathalie Vallerand

High rent, lack of space, noise that disturbs the neighbours... What are the main difficulties experienced by families who live in rental housing? What do they like best about renting?

Finding an apartment to rent isn’t always easy. “Some landlords don’t like renting to families with children,” says Stéphanie Walsh, who lives in Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré with her four-year-old son, Robin. “They make it known in a roundabout way, for example by saying that the apartment is ideal for retirees, a single person, or a couple.”

This type of discrimination is prohibited by the Civil Code of Québec and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. But since landlords have no trouble finding tenants, some are reluctant to rent to families because they are afraid the children will make too much noise.


Éloïse Gaudreau and her children, five-year-old Céleste and three-year-old Hélio, used to live on the second floor of a triplex in Quebec City. “The landlord lived downstairs and would bang on the ceiling with a stick whenever my kids made noise. It was stressful. I didn’t want to have to follow my kids around to stop them from running, so I decided to move.”

Walsh says that her former neighbours complained that her son was running around early in the morning. “Robin was a year old and they asked me to keep him in bed until 8 a.m.!”

According to the law, neighbours must accept normal neighbourhood annoyances. The sounds of footsteps, moving chairs, and laughing or crying children are examples of normal, everyday noises. However, the law also says that tenants are entitled to quiet enjoyment of the premises (the right to be able to use their apartment without being disturbed in an excessive manner). So, it’s important to avoid bothering your neighbours by being too noisy.

What should you do if someone complains about the noise your kids make? “The best thing is to talk calmly and listen to each other,” advises lawyer Antoine Morneau-Sénéchal, head of the legal information service at P.O.P.I.R. - Comité Logement, a Montreal housing committee. “Each party has to make concessions.” For example, a family could agree to put felt pads under their furniture, lower the volume of their TV, and not wear shoes indoors.

High rental rates


In 2018, the average price of a rental dwelling in Quebec was $760 per month, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Apartments with three or more bedrooms—highly sought after by families—cost $928 per month on average. In Montreal, big apartments cost around $1,000 per month—the highest average rental price in the province.

There is not enough affordable housing and low-income families are the number one victims of this situation,” says Maxime Roy-Allard, spokesperson for the RCLALQ, a Quebec housing and renters’ rights organization.

“I don’t earn a big salary,” says Gaudreau. “After my separation, I started looking for a place to rent, but everything was too expensive. When you have two incomes, it’s okay, but alone, it would have eaten up too much of my budget.”

She finally found an affordable place in a housing co-op: $691 for a three-bedroom apartment, heating included. “Rents are cheaper in a co-op, but renters have to do chores in exchange,” says Gaudreau.

Geneviève Loiello Daigneault, mother of one-year-old Félix and two girls aged eight and ten, feels lucky to have a three-bedroom apartment in Verdun for $820. “I’m on welfare, so it’s hard to make ends meet. Many apartments cost $1,000 to $1,200 a month. I can’t afford that.”

For families who don’t have a credit history in Canada, renting an apartment can be even harder. That’s what Pierre Richard Carrier and his wife, who are originally from Haiti, experienced soon after moving to Quebec.

“We visited about 15 apartments, but it never worked out because we didn’t have any credit history,” says Carrier, father of six-month-old Mathys. “We finally found a half-basement apartment in Laval. The landlord only asked for the first month’s rent in advance in three instalments. We were lucky to have met him!”

You don’t need a yard to be happy!
“Parks and alleys are great places for children to play and for parents to hang out,” says Montrealer FrançoisOlivier Leblanc, father of two-year-old Léo and fourmonthold Hugo, and stepdad to nine-year-old Alex. “I love the community spirit in our alley. We organize all sorts of activities with our neighbours such as games and hot chocolate in winter, after-work drinks, and Halloween in the alley. Parents socialize while the kids have fun. Alex is always playing in the alley with his friends.” In many neighbourhoods, families go to public parks for picnics or to spend time with friends as soon as the weather is nice enough.

A lack of big apartments

The lack of large apartments also makes tenants’ lives more complicated. “Apartments with four or more bedrooms are very rare,” says Xavier Leloup, a researcher at INRS, a Quebec scientific research institute. “It’s an issue of profitability for landlords—two small apartments bring in more money than one big apartment.”

A family with three or more children may have a hard time finding an apartment that is big enough. Imagine when you have seven, like the Wema family. They are making do with a threebedroom apartment in Sherbrooke while waiting for a five-bedroom one in public housing.

“It’s not easy for our older kids, who are 16 and 15 years old, to share their rooms with the youngest ones,” says Salehe, father of the children, including five-year-old Buré and one-year-old Ramadhani. “The ones who go to school find it hard to study quietly. Plus, there’s no room to play in the apartment, but luckily there’s a park nearby.”

Also, some apartments are big enough, but they aren’t suitable for families. “There are a lot of loft-style apartments, with a large open area or only one closed room,” says Leloup. “They aren’t ideal for kids. Also, the needs of families don’t seem to be considered when new neighbourhoods are developed with no schools nearby.”

A lack of public housing
There isn’t enough public housing in Quebec to meet the demand, and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon because few new units are being built. “Outside of Montreal, few cities include public housing in their real estate projects,” says Leloup. “In addition, there is less land available and it costs more.”

On the bright side


Having good neighbours is an advantage of living in an apartment. “I get along well with my neighbours in the building,” says Guylaine Gadoury, who lives in a quadruplex in Montreal with her five-year-old son, Rémi. “In the summer we have a community garden and sometimes we share a barbecue. We also help each other out. For instance, my landlord often picks my son up from kindergarten and babysits him at her place until I get home from work.”

“There are many families with kids on my street in Montreal,” says Claudine Bourassa, mother of three-year-old Léa. “My daughter has friends her age and all the neighbours know each other. It reminds me of my own childhood. I also like the cultural diversity of the neighbourhood. It’s enriching for my daughter.

Another positive aspect of living in an apartment is that there is less maintenance to do. “I don’t have to mow the lawn, and if anything breaks, the landlord takes care of it,” says Bourassa. “It allows us to spend more time together as a family!” It also means no big unexpected expenses for things such as a leaky roof or a defective heating system.

Furthermore, as many apartments are located in the city, they are usually better served by public transit. “I live a seven-minute walk away from a metro station,” says Carrier. “It’s handy. It allows me to easily get to the job I found through CACI (a support centre for immigrant communities).”

Living close to stores and services is another asset. It gives families the opportunity to do without a car, thereby reducing their expenses. “We can go to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the school—everywhere—on foot,” says Loiello Daigneault.

I wish I had a house

Still, for many people, owning a home is a symbol of success. The dream of owning a home is quite common for some tenants, even if it’s not always realistic.

“My ex and I owned a house together,” says Loiello Daigneault. “It was a big achievement for me, but we lost it due to financial problems. That was tough. I still dream of having a house of my own one day.”

What bothers her most about living in an apartment is that she can’t do as she pleases. “We can’t do whatever we want. For example, I would like to open a small home-based daycare, but my landlord won’t permit it. I’d also like to have a cat, but pets aren’t allowed, like in a lot of other apartments.”

Walsh says that “rent is an expense, while a house is an investment.” She adds, “On the other hand, I don’t have a mortgage, which takes years and years to pay off. And as a tenant, I can leave when my lease ends. It’s less complicated than selling a house.”

Questions frequently asked by parents who rent

Here are the answers to questions frequently asked by parents who rent.

Here are the answers to questions frequently asked by parents who rent.

1. How do I know if my landlord’s rent increase is fair?

On its website, the Régie du logement has a calculation tool that can help you figure out if the rent increase is reasonable. To use it, however, you must know the building’s operating expenses (taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc.).

“You can ask your landlord for this information, but it’s not always easy to get it,” says Maxime Roy-Allard of the RCLALQ. “Don’t be afraid to ask your housing committee for advice, if there is one in your city or neighbourhood.” As a point of comparison, rents rose an average of 2.2 per cent in 2018, according to the CMHC.

You can also refuse a rent increase and still renew your lease. You must inform your landlord within one month of receiving the notice of rent increase. A response model is available on the Régie du logement’s website. “It’s better to send it by registered mail so you have proof that you have responded,” says lawyer Antoine Morneau-Sénéchal, head of P.O.P.I.R. - Comité Logement’s legal information department.

When you refuse a rent increase, the landlord can make you a new proposal within one month of your refusal or ask the Régie to set the rental amount.

2. Does a landlord have the right to refuse to rent a dwelling to me on the grounds that it is too small for my family?

If your family is too large for the size of the unit, the Civil Code of Québec allows the landlord to refuse to rent it to you. How many occupants can live in a given area? “This can be open to interpretation because the Civil Code does not specify,” says Morneau-Sénéchal.

However, Montreal and Longueuil have set benchmarks in their by-laws on housing safety. For instance, in Montreal, a dwelling must provide at least 8.5 sq. m (91 sq. ft.) of living space per person. That means seven people could live in a 58 sq. m (600 sq. ft.) apartment. The Régie du logement may, however, determine that there are too many occupants in a dwelling, even if the by-law thresholds are respected.

3. Our landlord has evicted us. Do they have the right to do that?

At the start of each new year, many tenants receive a notice of repossession of a dwelling from landlords who say they or a member of their family wants to live there. Sometimes this is a tactic so that they can raise the rent, but if the landlord is acting in good faith, this practice is legal. You must receive written notice six months before the end of your lease and you are entitled to an amount to cover your moving expenses.

However, if after leaving the dwelling due to a repossession, you discover that it is not occupied by the landlord or a family member, you can claim damages.

In addition, your landlord can ask you to move out of the dwelling if they are enlarging or demolishing it, changing the occupancy (e.g., turning it into an office space), or dividing it into multiple dwellings. In these cases, you are entitled to three months’ rent in compensation and reimbursement of reasonable moving expenses. “You can challenge the eviction by contacting the Régie du logement within one month of receiving the eviction notice,” says Morneau-Sénéchal. “But if the landlord has permits to do the work, it is difficult to win.”

If they are doing major renovations, the landlord may also ask you to vacate the dwelling while the work is being completed. Once the work is done, you can return to your dwelling and the landlord cannot raise the rent if your lease has not run out.

Some landlords, however, offer to pay tenants so that they move out for good. This is another tactic to raise the rent. “If a landlord wants to pay you to leave, a housing committee can inform you of your rights and guide you through the negotiation,” says Morneau-Sénéchal. “However, if you have already given your consent by signing an agreement with the landlord, it is too late to change your mind.”

4. There’s mould in my children’s bedroom and my landlord won’t do anything about it. What should I do?

You can send your landlord a formal notice by registered mail giving them 10 days to resolve the problem. If they still don’t do anything, you can ask your municipality to have an inspector visit your dwelling (file a request to intervene). If they deem that the dwelling is unsanitary, they may send a notice to the landlord formally asking them to carry out the necessary work.

You can also ask the Régie du logement (for a fee of $76) to force the landlord to carry out the work or cancel the lease. You will then be summoned to a hearing before the tribunal of the Régie du logement. It’s a good idea to bring pictures of the damage.

A dwelling can be deemed unfit for habitation when it presents a serious danger to the health or safety of its occupants. The tenants can then abandon the dwelling without having to pay the rent for the period during which the dwelling was unfit for habitation. It is important to notify the landlord in writing within 10 days after abandoning the dwelling (a form is available on the Régie du logement’s website).

Keep in mind that abandoning a dwelling is a last resort because it is up to the tenants to prove that it cannot be inhabited, which can be very difficult to do. Otherwise, the landlord can sue for the unpaid months of rent.

“Whether it’s mould or something else, the poor condition of a dwelling is not always a health hazard,” says Morneau-Sénéchal. “Before abandoning your dwelling, speak with a housing committee or your municipality.”


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, April 2019
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Reviewed by: Julien Delangie, lawyer specializing in housing law


Photos : Maxim Morin (True reality), GettyImages/FluxFactory, AleksandarNakic, and mediaphotos