A woman stood at my neighbour’s door, screaming at his face. “When I moved in here, I thought no children were allowed!” He’s a young father with an energetic two-year-old girl that I often hear through our styrofoam-strength walls, often laughing, sometimes crying.
“You’re going to have to move to another place, then, because children are allowed here,” he responded with equal fervour. “This is the first time I’ve met you. I don’t know your name, I don’t know anything about you. Have a good day!”
Despite my condo’s poor sound-proofing, the man had a point — that is unless the condo board can be swayed to change its bylaws and restrict who can live here, like many other multiunit homes in central Edmonton. If my angry neighbour can convince 75 per cent of condo owners to place age restrictions on residents, a court will support it. There will be zero legal recourse. Alberta’s human rights laws are the only in Canada that don’t protect tenant’s from age discrimination.
Despite our many playgrounds, pools and summer festivities, few kids live in Edmonton’s densest neighbourhoods due to a cluster of forces: allowance of age-restrictive bylaws, backwards human rights laws, a lack of three-bedroom-plus units, buildings with thin walls and floors and, one suspects, a lingering culture of believing families belong in suburbs. Bev Zubot, planning advisor with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, says the problem is well-known. Migrating families find a condo close to the core and realize, to their shock, they’re unwelcome. “They’re not accustomed to this discrimination, whether they be from B.C., Eastern Canada or other countries,” she says.
But that’s the legal side of the coin. If buildings in Edmonton were better designed, a lot of these disputes wouldn’t happen. Zubot says that poor regulations and building codes are the crux of the problem. “We still don’t have the proper sound-proofing between floors … in hallways.” Fix these, she says, and conflicts between neighbours that lead to age restrictions dramatically decrease. “We’re setting them up for disputes.”
This is less of a problem in the United States, thanks to federal legislation that forbids tenancy discrimination based on age amongst other things. Even in Ontario, the human rights commission is cracking down on housing ads that are remotely discriminatory, such as “ideal for quiet couple” or “suitable for single professional.”
But in Alberta, says Roberto Noce, a lawyer with Miller Thomson, age restrictions baked into condo bylaws are usually upheld in court, though they’re not common in Edmonton. Age-restrictive bylaws are “the exception, not the rule,” he says. It’s the same thing for when you want to bring home something that walks on all fours. In fact, theoretically condos could restrict those with blond hair and blue eyes, though whether our court would uphold that is another question. “I was approached by one condo corporation who inquired whether they could create a bylaw saying only those aged 60 and under can live in the building.”
But why would someone want to restrict seniors? Or children, or any other demographic for that matter? Sure, they’re loud, they’re annoying. But the best part of living in a city is its diversity and living among people unlike myself. What galls me is that Alberta recently revised its condo legislation, and age restrictions were left out of the discussion. Nothing’s changing without stronger human rights laws.
More worryingly, our biases toward families seem to replicate themselves in what developers want to build. There are few family-oriented buildings on downtown’s horizon. Zubot has made the problem known to city council for years, leading to a market study on the demand for multi-unit family-oriented housing and, pending results, a possible zoning amendment could pressure developers to increase the offerings. She’d like to see them take cues from Toronto’s city council, which recently required all new downtown developments to have some family-friendly housing.
But until the change comes at cultural, municipal and provincial levels, the young family I share a wall with is going to continue worrying about their kid pissing off the building.