Questioning Social Housing Occupancy Rules

The Social Housing Reform Act, provincial legislation that governs the operation of non-profit and government housing, establishes occupancy standards for rent-geared-to-income apartments.

It states that the smallest unit a family will be eligible for is one that allows a maximum of two occupants per bedroom. Many municipalities have established their own social housing standards, but they tend to hold to the SHRA’s ‘2 person per bedroom’ rule.

At first glance, this standard may seem reasonable.

But what about a low income couple with 3 children? Under the SHRA, they would only be eligible for a 3 bedroom apartment. In many communities, 3 bedroom social housing units are very hard to come by – there aren’t many and they don’t turn over very often.

This family might find that two bedroom apartments (which are more plentiful) will meet their needs – e.g. the parents may be willing to sleep in the living room, while their children use the bedrooms. This won’t be an option for them because of the occupancy standards.

The family will end up living in an expensive, private market apartment which will, ironically, likely be a two bedroom unit since they will have difficulty affording three bedrooms.

Social housing occupancy rules can act as a major barrier to families with children who are trying to access appropriate, affordable housing. Rules for private market housing have been challenged under the Human Rights Code, but social housing requirements have to date received only minimal scrutiny.

Some who are in favour of these standards point to healthy and safety concerns. And indeed, households with more than two persons per bedroom will find themselves in ‘Core Housing Need’ as defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. However, I’m not convinced there is evidence to back up this argument. There is a difference between an ideal, what we should work towards, and what is necessary for health and safety reasons. Municipal occupancy standards by-laws – which relate to health and safety – tend to be much more lenient than social housing rules.

Another argument in favour is that, without the 2 person per bedroom maximum, families will apply for smaller units, get housed and then apply for an internal transfer to a larger unit – effectively jumping the queue. If that is a concern, then address the internal transfer system.

Of course, it is a good thing to give families as much living space as possible. But governments and social housing providers shouldn’t use this goal to deny a family an apartment which the family feels meets their needs.

In the end, shouldn’t the family decide what’s best?

  • dear john,

    i have come across your comment and i would kindly request your help.

    we are property owners of a strata unit, a 1 bedroom, 1021 sqft condo. we have owned it for nearly 4 years and have barely lived in it. in the first year we had a baby boy, and then we moved to kelowna. we resided in kelowna for a while and due to health reasons and also income reasons we have moved back to our condo in richmond bc. since then we now have another new son, which is now 2 months old.

    we have received a complaint from the neighbour directly below us, and is complaining that our toddler is making too much noise by simply walking in little footsteps. we checked the regulations about nuisance laws and we do not feel that it is illegal because it is not extremely loud and does not infringe on his quiet enjoyment. it is a minor discomfort but we have tried to remedy the issue by putting rugs. upon a sound test, we found that the structure of the building is the cause of the problem, and not our child’s walking.

    i do not think he liked the result of the sound test, and now he would like to evict us by challenging us based on us breaking the bylaws of occupancy limits. the bylaws state that the 1 bedroom unit can only have 2 people while the 2 bedroom units can have 4 people. however any unit, 1 or 2 bedrooms, can have 2 dogs and multiple birds.

    he has petitioned to the council that we as a family cannot live in our 1 bedroom. the bedroom is 26 feet long by 11 feet wide, and is on a top floor with 17 feet high ceilings.

    i feel that it his petition, and if ruled in his favor to evict us, infringes on our human rights. is this so? is there any help?

    the strata president has given us an option to allow 2 of us to live there while the other 2 live at our parents house so that we abide the bylaw of occupancy limit. i do not want to break up my family. but since he talked to me informally, i have agreed to do so, as i do not know my rights and cannot find anybody (until your posting) to help me.

    thanks very much. they are voting to impose a weekly fine for us living there starting wednesday (in 2 days), so i would appreciate any legal references that would help me. does the municipal code of occupancy supersede the strata bylaws of occupancy? is my liberty to choose and live in my familial status compromised by this bylaw and thus make the bylaw unlawful? is this a human rights code infringement as it affects my children’s right to life and enjoyment and they are under the age of majority thus having it necessary for me to care for them and provide them shelter?


    richard tang