The true reality of living in rental housing with children

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?

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.”


Photos: Maxim Marin


Naître et grandir

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