Calgary mom struggling to find rental as a single parent with pets

A Calgary mom of two claims she is unable to secure an affordable rental because she is a single mom and has pets. Henna Saeed talks to the women’s shelter and the Calgary Humane Society, about possible options for people in this situation.

A Calgary mom of two says she is on the verge of homelessness after searching for a rental in Calgary for more than three months without success.

“I am kind of stunned that I am now facing homelessness in three days with my children because I can’t get anybody to answer my call for renting an apartment,” Zena Ukisu told CityNews.

Born and raised in Calgary, Ukisu is a single mom of two boys aged 15 and four. She works in the energy sector and has a steady job.

She claims she cannot secure an affordable rental because she is a single mom and has pets.

“Since December, I have sent out over 300 messages on Facebook marketplace, Kijiji and Rentfaster, and also the physical advertisements displayed outside rental homes. Since that time, I’ve counted today, and I have had about just over a dozen responses, period. [The] rest are all no responses,” Ukisu said.

“I recently contacted a few rentals, not disclosing that I was a single mom, and instantly I began getting responses. Until I was saying I was a single mom, I wasn’t getting any responses.”

Ukisu says homeowners prefer couples over single moms. To counter this, she has also tried to find another single mom to jointly rent a house together, but nothing has worked out.

With just a few days to vacate the house she currently lives in, her next step is contacting shelters, but she’s not very hopeful, mainly due to their long wait lists.

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Jan Reimer, the executive director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS), says shelters are already over capacity.

“Women’s shelters are for those, particularly in the urban areas, women who are fleeing violence, so there are very few options for women who have nowhere to go,” Reimer said.

“There’s a lot more and more [challenges] for women to find housing for themselves and their children.”

With tears in her eyes, Ukisu says she doesn’t understand the problem, as she is a full-time working mom, and she says she has a good rental history. She is not asking for charity, just an affordable house to rent.

Ukisu says with the rising inflation and a crazy rental market, she has had a hard time finding a decent home, and when she sees one, the owners or realtors don’t respond.

Her search area is south of the city as her kids have special needs, and they go to schools southeast of Calgary.

Pets housing issues for renters

Zena Ukisu's cat rests on top of her 14-year-old son in Calgary

Zena Ukisu’s cat rests on top of her 14-year-old son in Calgary. (Courtesy of Zena Ukisu)

Ukisu shared text messages with CityNews, which showed several renters having reservations about her pets.

She says she is fully aware that besides her single-parent status, having pets may be another significant reason for her rental rejection.

“We have pets too … which always throws a wrench in the deal. We have two cats. They are my fur babies. How can I part with them?” Ukisu said.

“To top it off, I can’t believe that our standard of living has plummeted so drastically in the span of a year that now I can’t even afford a home.”

Anna-Lee Fitzsimmons, the associate director of community engagement at the Calgary Humane Society (CHS), says no-pet housing is creating more problems for renters now than ever.

“On average, we see about 100 to 150 animals per year surrendered for no-pet housing, and that number does continue to climb, especially with what’s going on in the rental market and in our economy,” Fitzsimmons said.

“No pet rentals are one of the top reasons why we see surrendered animals to the shelter. And I don’t think that landlords in the City of Calgary realize just how many companion animals are becoming homeless as a result.”

She says the CHS is in working on a research project to assess the reasons behind no pet rentals and plans to work with homeowners to create awareness in this regard.

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Meanwhile, Fitzsimmons suggests renters like Ukisu should make pet resumes, including their pet’s good habits and health updates, to convince homeowners about their fitness to rent.

Ukisu says she would love to communicate with homeowners if they ever respond to her requests and messages.

With her current lease ending in three days, she says her kids realize that to save themselves from homelessness, they might have to give up their family pets or leave the city.

“I honestly feel now that it might be time to leave Calgary as I just can’t find anywhere affordable to live here, a city that I grew up in,” Ukisu said tearfully.

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