A first-time mother struggling to get her deposit back is highlighting a need for regulation of "birth houses" that have sprung up in Metro Vancouver.

Fiona Ren is a permanent resident of Canada, but her husband works in Hong Kong. Facing the last months of her pregnancy alone, she decided to book a room in a Richmond birth house, a place that provides room and board for expectant mothers.

The homes have popped up in Metro Vancouver in response to a spike in "birth tourism," a phenomenon where pregnant women travel to Canada for the purpose of giving birth, so their children are born with automatic Canadian citizenship.

Last month, Vancouver Coastal Health told CTV News that one in six babies born in Richmond are born to foreign mothers.

The boom in birth tourism means some local mothers, including Ren, are being diverted to hospitals further away because the closest maternity wards are full. Ren was sent from Richmond to Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, where she gave birth to her son Hugo.

Months before her delivery, Ren was worried about going into labour alone. She planned to spend the end of her pregnancy at a birth house, where she'd have someone to cook and clean for her, and help her get to hospital when she went into labour.

She answered an ad she found online, and was shown a room at a house on Afton Drive.

"I gave them $1,000 Canadian for the deposit," she told CTV News. Room and board when she moved into the home would be $7,000 a month, she was told.

But then, three months before she was scheduled to check in, her parents told her they would come to Canada to look after her. So she cancelled her reservation, but the woman she spoke to wouldn't give her a refund.

CTV Vancouver tried to get in touch with the owners of the business, but no one was willing to speak.

Ren filed a complaint with the City of Richmond, but was told that the business isn't regulated by the city, and homeowners are allowed to have boarders.

So the new mother is speaking out about the problems with unregulated birth housing, asking the city to reevaluate its stance.

"This is a business. They post advertisements on websites," she said.

The increase in "passport babies" also prompted a Richmond activist to file a petition to change the laws on a federal level.

Kerry Starchuk wants the government to require at least one parent to be a permanent resident before their baby can receive a Canadian passport, but officials in Ottawa said they weren't interested in an amendment.

"It would represent a significant change to how Canadian citizenship is acquired," Immigration Minister John McCallum said.

Starchuk said the ministry has told her it recognizes that birth houses are an issue, but to regulate them would require an overhaul in immigration policy.

"They have basically given us a bunch of words but no action."

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Mi-Jung Lee