EDMONTON — Michael Janz and Sally Tang hide two-month old Miles as if he was a bag of drugs when they walk between their car and their suburban Edmonton condo.

“We call him Baby Moses because he’s not allowed in Egypt, and we have to carry him under our coat if we’re going through the parkade,” Janz said. “It’s the glances and stares you get from your neighbours,” Tang added. “They look at you and wonder if it’s a 21-and-older building, why is there a baby? It feels like we’re hiding him.”

Janz and Tang live in an adult-only condo, a common age discrimination applied to multi-unit housing in Alberta, and one brewing a bitter feud between millennial families and family-friendly housing advocates on one side, and developers, industry advocates and seniors on the other, who want the province’s age discrimination in housing maintained.

Alberta is the last province in Canada to allow developers, condo boards and landlords to discriminate on who is allowed to live where based on age, except seniors. But following a human rights challenge, a court has given the government until January 2018 to reconsider what exemptions to a coming ban on age discrimination it will uphold.

Codie McLachlan/National Post
Codie McLachlan/National PostMichael Janz and Sally Tang pose with their baby boy, Miles, at Hodgson Park in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Young families such as Janz and Tang’s are pushing to outlaw buildings with bylaws that dictate residents must be older than 18 (though their building is 21 and older).

“It’s a distorted market signal we’re sending to families, that before you even start trying to have children you have to go and buy a single detached home in a neighbourhood — and where can you afford to buy?” Janz said.

But Anand Sharma, president of the northern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Condominium Institute (CCI), said the group is set to lobby the Alberta government to uphold age discrimination exemptions in housing.

He said the CCI wants to protect seniors-only exemptions, but acknowledges the unintended consequence might be upholding the adult-only ones as well.

“It’s kind of all or nothing: either you’re in favour of allowing condos to restrict age or you’re not,” Sharma said. “Are we prepared to tell people that your building is no longer allowed to be a 55-plus building? I don’t think Alberta is ready for that.”

David Shepherd, an Edmonton MLA with the ruling NDP, said he was unaware about the effect of age discrimination rules until constituents, including a single mother who’d left an abusive house only to find it difficult to find a place to live, came to him with tragic stories.

Shepherd said the challenge facing the NDP government is determining just how many buildings in Alberta have discriminatory bylaws in place, since collecting that information would require, in many cases, paying to look at thousands of individual building bylaws.

“There doesn’t appear to be any concrete data on this issue,” he said.

David Cumming, a Calgary-based lawyer who specializes in condominium litigation, said age-discrimination cases aren’t a “burning” issue for his office, and estimates the number of age-restricted buildings in Alberta to be about 10 per cent of the total stock.

The fascinating aspect of the dispute for Cumming, though, is that the legalities of the age-discrimination bylaws are vague at the moment, with courts in the past both upholding and challenging them.

Ryan Jackson/Postmedia News
Ryan Jackson/Postmedia NewsRakesh and his son Raj Dhunna have played a big role in rejuvenating downtown Edmonton.

“It’s just an interesting legal issue,” he said. “And if the rules do change, there’s a lot of 40-(year-old)-plus buildings that would have bylaws that are obsolete.”

Alberta’s laws mean a condominium board can technically change its bylaws to discriminate based on age if 75 per cent of members approve.

But Raj Dhunna, chief operating officer of Edmonton’s Regency Developments — which has built several new multi-unit residential buildings in the past few years — said the restrictions are most often put in place by the developer.

Dhunna said Regency, which recently opened a 30-storey condominium, Edmonton’s tallest to date, has not put age-restricted bylaws on its developments, but is considering the idea.

His consideration highlights the non-intuitive economic factors at play. Where some might see an age restriction as limiting the market for a building, Dhunna said the opposite can also be the case.

“I haven’t had any age-restrictions building in the past, but I’m considering it on a project in the future,” he said. “One of the reasons that comes across a developer’s decision-making process is seniors. They want to stay in the same neighbourhood and they’re looking to downsize, and that’s where an [infill] project like mine comes along. Given the age demographic they’re at, they’re not looking to have kids in the building.”

Unsurprisingly, families renting from condo owners are often caught in the middle of bylaws they are unaware of.

Codie McLachlan/National Post
Codie McLachlan/National PostCaitlin McElhone, left, Scott Jendruck, right, and their son, Mason Jendruck, 2, are photographed in the urban neighbourhood of Grandin in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Caitlin McElhone was pregnant and knew the building she was renting in was adults-only, but said a knock came at her door before she even had much of a baby bump. It was the head of the building’s condo board.

“He basically said they’d been having some meetings about us, which is very strange,” McElhone said. “They basically kind of gave us a timeline. They threatened to call the condo owner because we were breaking condo law and said we had to get out.”

The Family Friendly Housing Coalition of Alberta was recently formed to push the Alberta government to remove age discriminations from condos as well as rental units, another area where the province is an outlier in Canada.

The coalition is also pushing developers of condominiums and rental properties to accommodate children by adding more three-bedroom suites.

Dhunna said that idea, too, is unlikely, given his previous experience with a condo development that had three-bedroom townhouses added to its base.

“I had sold out all my condo units, but I was sitting on 15-20 of these townhouse units,” he said. “At the end of the project, I reduced the pricing and it reduced my profit margin.”

Codie McLachlan/National Post
Codie McLachlan/National PostScott Jendruck, left, Caitlin McElhone, right, and their son, Mason Jendruck, 2, are photographed in the urban neighbourhood of Grandin in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

The price to build townhouse units puts them uncomfortably close to what a buyer can pay for a single-detached home in a greenfield suburb, Dhunna said.

“My list price on those units opens me up to a lot more competition,” he said.

But with about 100,000 people per year joining Alberta’s population since 2012, at least partially because it has the highest take-home pay in the country, the issue is not going to soon disappear even though there are signs of life in the province’s housing market.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. on Monday reported that new residential unit construction in Alberta’s urban centres is showing signs of life. But in Calgary, more than 2,000 new housing units were unoccupied, the biggest inventory on record.

Many newcomers either choose or are forced to rent because of a lack of available or affordable housing, but some also have or may want to have children at some point as well.

My list price on those units opens me up to a lot more competition

For Janz and Tang, they made an offer on a house after the condo board said it wouldn’t let them stay because of their baby. That offer fell through and they are now scrambling to build an infill house in an older Edmonton neighborhood.

They sought — and got — eight months from their condo board to move out, but it’s a race that Janz said has placed undue stress on the young family.

It’s also why they keep Miles out of sight as much as possible.

“It’s a weird feeling because we’re ever so thankful to the condo board for granting us this exemption to stay for eight months,” he said. “We don’t want to rock the boat at all; we don’t even put the garbage down the shoot after 10 o’clock.”

But, he said, the principle is still incorrect. “We also feel this is an egregious wrong that needs to be corrected.”