Opinion: With pets and kids, the search for a family rental home is "unbearable"

Mar 14 2022, 10:47 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Rachel Thexton, president of Thexton PR.

I look at my family as we walk through our North Burnaby neighbourhood one evening. There are five of us: My husband, myself, and our three children — ages 8, 4 and 2.

Walking slowly beside us is our small 15-year old dog Bandit; a quiet, short-haired Chihuahua. Him and his 10-year old feline brother, Elvis, make securing a rental home near impossible. Also, we don’t have $4,000 monthly to spend on rent, an expense providing us no investment. Monthly rental fees in Burnaby are unimaginable for a larger family who wants a decent quality of life.

Burnaby has been our home for five years. We have lived all around Burnaby, in several homes, moving because our family grew, and also due to disappointing behaviour by our landlords. One asked for higher rent while my mother-in-law visited to help with our newborn, becoming stuck for a few extra weeks due to the pandemic border closures. Another owner showed up often to walk around right outside the master bedroom, invading our privacy.

Our Burnaby landlords recommend us and describe our model tenancy. We have never missed or been late on payments. Our damage and pet deposits have always been returned, with the exception of one owner who wasn’t happy with the oven cleaning. We’ve never had a neighbour complaint.

Bandit and Elvis

Bandit and Elvis. (Rachel Thexton/submitted)

Now, halfway through our second year in our current rental, an old home, but one with lots of space, and in a great community where our kids enjoy the school, preschool, parks and community centres, we must move again. We even have our trampoline set in the backyard, a birthday gift to my kids that they use often.

We currently pay a “reasonable” $2,800 monthly, plus utilities, and insurance fees. The cost is lower because the home is old and needs work. We don’t mind the dated features, and one bathroom for five people. We’ve made it our home.

The landlord now has personal issues so we must move by the end of our lease period and he will move in. We had originally discussed a multi-year arrangement, giving our family some stability.

Beyond the stress and expense of moving, the search for a new family rental is unbearable. Few accept pets, even with a substantial deposit, costs are high, and many are shared homes or basement suites; now called “garden suites.”

As a professional managing my business from home, and caring for three children, and their natural noise, sharing a home is unlikely to be a smooth arrangement for anyone.

And then comes the intense interrogation that most homeowners throw your way.

As a long-time independent contractor, I don’t have pay stubs or an office to call and confirm my employment. Owners don’t like this. Even with income proof, they call this uncertain. My husband is a new Canadian, formally in hospitality, and now a barber. This lack of impressive full-time status makes owners frown. I understand that owners need their due diligence to avoid disaster tenants, but years of timely rental payments, strong references, and proof of income should be enough. It often isn’t.

Owners don’t want our animals, even though they have have never done damage or caused a problem. Owners also find our professional status a bit too modern. We have been denied several suitable homes.

rental housing

Rachel Thexton’s children in Burnaby. (Rachel Thexton/submitted)

Now I search rental sites daily, check new listings, cringe at the prices and balk at what is being offered for a small fortune. Shared laundry and noise of steps above me while I work, or during the kids nap? The minimum for a family home is around $3,400, often more, unless you get lucky. I hope we do.

Burnaby is a city for families who are wealthy enough to buy a home, or access family money for a down-payment. There may be decent opportunities for low-income families but we do not meet requirements with our healthy income. We are thankful for that.

I often rave about Burnaby as a city full of beautiful parks, excellent community programming, strong schools, and quick access downtown via SkyTrain. We love Burnaby. We want to live here.

Unfortunately, we may not be able to stay due to our family dynamic and we refuse to give up our beloved animals. We also need to consider finances, our comfort, and happiness. Cramming five people and two animals into under 1000-square-feet is not practical.

We hope that our new home will be in Burnaby. We can swallow the high prices by working like crazy but it’s the uncertainty of not having a home for our family to rely on longer-term that may send us packing.

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