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These single moms say landlords won’t rent to them because they have kids — even though that’s illegal

Mallory Gunn has applied to countless rental units, desperate to find a safe place to live with her two young children. But the Halifax-area mother is slowly realizing her kids might be her biggest obstacle. 

“I’ve gotten denied mostly because I have children,” Gunn said in an interview. “I’ve had landlords tell me over the phone that their building doesn’t accept children or they’re looking for an applicant that is single.”

With more than 7,500 households waiting for a spot in public housing and rental subsidies difficult to access, Gunn thinks her only option is to find a market rental.

She’s not alone in her struggle to get approved for a rental unit. Krista Forbes, the managing lawyer of Nova Scotia Legal Aid’s family law office, said she’s seeing more parents being denied housing because of their children.

“There is a housing crisis that is impacting parents even more greatly than it is probably any other group,” Forbes said.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission says that declining someone’s rental application because they have children goes against provincial law.

“It is illegal under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act to discriminate against someone due to their family status, this includes refusing to rent accommodations to anyone with children,” spokesperson Jeff Overmars said in an email. 

Considering giving up primary custody

Gunn, who works as a human resources assistant and is currently on maternity leave, has been living with her ex-partner for 10 months as she scours rental ads multiple times a day. She said she needs to get out, but she’s starting to feel hopeless. 

“I’ve been looking for so long and I just feel like landlords and big corporations, they get to just cherry-pick because they have so many applications and they just pick the one that makes the most income,” she said. “I have a good job … I pay all my bills. And now I could be homeless.”

Gunn’s budget for rent is $1,600 monthly, but she said even apartments in traditionally low-income areas like Spryfield and north Dartmouth are now more than she can afford.

She’s working with a housing support worker, but they haven’t been able to find her a rental either.

Gunn said if she can’t find a safe and affordable place to rent soon, she may have to give up primary custody of her children to their fathers, who have stable living situations. 

“I never thought in a million years I would ever be in this situation ever,” she said. “So it keeps me up at night for sure.”

A woman in a blue blazer sits at a desk
Lawyer Krista Forbes said she sees housing issues impacting children and families in many ways. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Forbes said in her work, she sees how housing can impact children and separate families. 

“We are seeing more and more … parents who are discussing whether they can have primary care of their children because they can’t get housing,” Forbes said. “We have parents talking about whether or not they can have parenting time because they … are staying with a buddy on a couch or there’s three people staying in a one-bedroom apartment.”

Three weeks left

Alexis Dingwell is also searching for housing for herself and her two-year-old son. She currently rents a room in a house with 10 people. 

She said she has applied to hundreds of rentals that are close to her $1,500 budget but she is always denied. In one instance, she was told it’s because she has a young child. 

“I think it’s ridiculous, honestly, ’cause where else are we supposed to live if we can’t live in your building,” Dingwell said. “It’s an apartment building, it’s for people to live, it’s for people to be safe. And you’re telling me I can’t live there because I have a kid? It just doesn’t make sense.”

A woman and her young child smile at the camera
Alexis Dingwell and her two-year-old son have three weeks to find a new place to live. (Submitted by Alexis Dingwell)

Dingwell is studying business in college full time and is on income assistance. She said this barely covers her expenses. She’s been on the public housing waitlist for years, and was denied a rent supplement because she hadn’t already signed a lease.

Dingwell and her son have three weeks before they need to leave their current rental.

“All I can do is hope that we find a place and we don’t end up on the streets or something.”

What can you do?

Forbes said prospective tenants can’t lie on their rental applications and say they don’t have children. But they do have some recourse if they’re discriminated against. 

“I strongly recommend reaching out to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and having a conversation with them,” she said. “Family status is a protected status under that human rights legislation, and investigating that is certainly important.”

Overmars said the human rights commission hasn’t seen a notable increase in complaints about people with children facing discrimination as they search for housing.

Forbes said that may be because people aren’t reporting such incidents, or they don’t have proof. 

“That landlord may have said that to multiple people, all of which … were so desperate to get a place and in such a hurry to get a place, they didn’t have the time to take somebody to Human Rights and get an outcome that benefited them.”

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This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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