British Columbia

'Completely outrageous': Couple say they were denied co-op apartment over sex of baby

Co-op board blames applicant and volunteer, saying family was never being considered for the unit

Kristjan Gottfried and Michelle Hurtig

Michelle Hurtig and Kristjan Gottfried were expecting their second child when they were first told they topped the wait list for a 2-bedroom co-op apartment. (CBC)

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A Vancouver family believes they were denied a unit in a co-op housing complex because their baby is a girl and not a boy.

When Kristjan Gottfried and his wife Michelle Hurtig got the news they were first in line for an apartment in a co-op housing complex in one of the most desirable and expensive cities in the country, they felt like they'd won the lottery.

They never imagined standing in the way of claiming that jackpot was the sex of their unborn baby.

The couple first contacted Go Public in June after they were told by a representative of Marina Housing Co-operative that they were first on the list for a two-bedroom unit but, before their application could proceed, the co-op board needed to know the sex of their unborn baby.

Marina Housing Co-Operative

Getting a 2-bedroom unit in Vancouver's Marina Housing Co-Operative would have meant the couple's rent would drop from $1,840 to $895 a month. (CBC)

At the time, Hurtig was seven months pregnant. The couple also has a two-year-old son.

The co-op board rep told the couple if the baby was a girl, the available unit could go to another applicant because boys and girls cannot share a bedroom under the co-op's rules.

The family would have to wait for a three-bedroom — which might take years.

The co-op refused to provide Go Public with a copy of its rules. There is a similar guideline on the books of Canada's national housing agency.

The toddler son and newborn daughter of Michelle Hurtig and Kristjan Gottfried

The couple's baby girl was born on August 21st, a few months after they were told the baby's sex was an issue. They also have a two-year-old son. (Kristjan Gottfried)

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) guideline suggests children of opposite sexes can't share a bedroom if they are over the age of five, but it's OK for children of the same sex to do so.

Gottfried and Hurtig believe it should be up to parents to decide when and if children share a room.

"I would describe it as being completely outrageous and appalling and just unbelievable," Gottfried tells Go Public.

"No matter how I thought about it, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it," Hurtig says.

The one-income family says money is tight. Getting the unit would have meant their rent would drop from $1,840 to $895 a month.

"It's discrimination. We get the room if our children are the same sex and we don't get the room if our children are not the same sex. It's very, very clear-cut discrimination," Gottfried said.

Baby's sex a factor, voicemail

Gottfried and Hurtig provided Go Public with a voicemail message from a woman who identifies herself as the co-chair of the Marina Housing Co-op's membership committee.

Listen to the message here:

Family denied co-op apartment by voicemail 2:01

"What I told you at the time when I first called you is I asked you, because you were the first on the list, if you knew… the sex of your child coming and you didn't and that's fine," the woman says.

"We cannot offer you the unit because you do not know the sex of your child."

In the voicemail, the woman also says she's "talked to everyone here" and that the co-op is just following its rules and standards.

The woman says on the message that other candidates would be interviewed, and credit and reference checks done before a final decision was made on who would get the available unit.

"So please just accept that this is the way it is right now and please contact us in August as I asked you to, and advise [us] of the sex of your baby and then we'll know where we're going moving forward."

In late August, the couple had a baby girl.

Sex of baby not factor, co-op says

In email exchanges with Go Public, the co-op board denies the family was ever considered for the unit and the sex of the baby was not a factor in who would get the apartment.

Board members say the only reason Gottfried came to their attention was because he flooded the co-chair of the co-op's membership committee with text messages and was trying to influence the process.

Kristjan Gottfried and his wife Michelle Hurtig's baby girl

Kristjan Gottfried and Michelle Hurtig's believe if their newborn had been a boy, they would been granted the two bedroom co-op unit. (Kristjan Gottfried)

"The member who is newly a volunteer in this position on the membership committee was and remains distressed by this attention," the co-op board told Go Public.

Gottfried admits he did send numerous text messages in a short period of time, but says it was a technical glitch where the same message was sent several times.

The co-op board was asked to explain the voicemail message saying the family could not have the unit if their baby turned out to be a girl.

The board's lawyer responded, saying the co-chair of the co-op's membership committee "was not speaking on behalf of the board."

"The recording thus does not in any way alter what has always been the board's position as to the basis for the rejection.

Marina Housing Co-Operative

The co-op board told Go Public that the couple was never in the running for a two bedroom unit in the Marina Housing Co-operative. (CBC)

"Even if the recording is accurate and has not been altered, it shows that a new volunteer who was clearly overwhelmed spoke about the co-op in a way that was not authorized and did not accurately represent the co-op," wrote Vancouver attorney Geoffrey H. Dabbs in an email to Go Public.

We asked the woman who left the message if she shared that perspective, but she hasn't replied.

National standards outdated

"Frankly, I am incredulous that somebody would ask the gender of somebody's baby before it's born," says Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

Ramsay believes the family is being discriminated against in two ways — the sex of the baby and makeup of the family.

She says she's seen situations like this arise when landlords adopt CMHC guidelines that are outdated and open to misunderstanding or abuse, pointing to the one that suggests children of opposite sexes can't share a bedroom if they are over the age of five.

A CMHC spokesperson told Go Public the guideline is intended to address overcrowding.

"There are many discriminatory policies that are on the books and they live there for years until they're challenged legally," Ramsay says.

'Affordable housing crisis'

Ramsay says the rules need to change in order to address the "affordable housing crisis" in some Canadian cities.

"It's just getting worse. And to arbitrarily deny someone housing based on the fact that their children may be of different genders — it's completely absurd," she said.

Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre

Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre, believes the family may have been discriminated against by the co-op. (CBC)

Vancouver has the lowest vacancy rate and the highest rent increases in the country, followed by Victoria then Toronto, according to a CMHC report released last year.

"Sure, everybody would love to have their own bedroom. But that's not the reality. People can't afford one bedroom per child," Ramsay said.

Gottfried and Hurtig are now looking to move. They say they can't afford to live in Vancouver any more and plan to move to a less expensive city in the Lower Mainland.

"Just kind of makes you feel sick to your stomach ... I was super excited about having a girl and I still am. I'm just disappointed it will cost us," Hurtig said.

"I felt really discriminated against and kind of like an opportunity was stolen from our family."

With files from Rachel Ward

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