B.C. bans majority of evictions during COVID-19 pandemic
Premier also announces up to $500 in relief for renters struggling to make rent
B.C. is suspending evictions and freezing rent increases in an effort to help tenants make ends meet and keep their homes for the duration of the provincial COVID-19 emergency.
Premier John Horgan said current and upcoming evictions in the province are on hold, with a few exceptions, until the crisis has passed.
Horgan said the government is also offering a monthly rebate of up to $500 for three months to take some pressure off tenants struggling to make payments.
"We don't want people to think they may lose that home as a result of this pandemic," the premier said.
Tenants and landlords alike have been increasingly anxious as April 1 approaches, with the outbreak keeping countless people at home and out of work. Advocacy groups had called on federal and provincial governments to offer some kind of relief before rent came due on Wednesday.
The new ban means landlords cannot issue a new notice to end a tenancy for any reason and existing orders will not be enforced, though there are exemptions for the latter.
Existing notices will still be enforced in "extreme cases where there are safety concerns." A small number of court-ordered evictions, which operate independently of government, are also exempt from the suspension. Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the court is "aware" of current issues with evictions.
Landlords who do want to try and apply for an eviction notice during the moratorium can ask to have a hearing with the Residential Tenancy Branch, if they believe it is an exceptional case where health and safety is at risk.
$500 rebate going to landlords
In a statement released Wednesday, the province said the rebate will be paid directly to landlords through BC Housing.
The premier said the money will not arrive in time for the first of the month on Wednesday. He asked tenants and landlords to try and find "co-operation" in the meantime.
"We can't guarantee it will be in their pockets by April 1," Horgan said. "[Tenants] have a relationship with your landlord. Let's hope that they're good relationships, and you're going to have to find a way to work this out together."
As for living situations with multiple roommates sharing rent, Robinson said the province is still working out whether the rebate will be granted per tenant or per unit.
The premier acknowledged that $500 will not go far for people who have lost all of their income in B.C. communities with astronomical rental rates, but said the money should come as a supplement to other financial aid announced provincially and federally.
"I recognize $500 does not seem like an enormous amount, but when you put it beside a $2,000 payment from the federal government and $1,000 from the province, as well as other initiatives that we've brought forward to reduce costs ... I think we're in a place where we can manage this going forward," Horgan said.
Tenants who are still working and are able to continue paying rent should do so. Minister Robinson said those who apply for the rebate will have to demonstrate "a significant reduction" in their income to be eligible.
Robinson said an application portal for the rebate is still under development but should be ready "in short order." She said the payments will go directly to landlords "to help ease some of their pressures, directly."
Annual rent increases are also banned as of Wednesday. If a tenant's rent was set to increase on April 1, Robinson said that will no longer happen.
"This is not the time to seek rent increases and there is zero chance of that happening," said Horgan.
Measures for landlords
The province also announced new restrictions for landlords on Wednesday.
They are not allowed to enter a suite without a tenant's permission, for events like showings or routine maintenance, to prevent spreading the virus. Landlords may go into a suite "in exceptional cases ... to protect health and safety or to prevent undue damage to the unit," the statement said.
Landlords are, however, now able to restrict access to common areas in a shared building, like laundry rooms or games rooms, to help prevent gatherings that can spread the coronavirus.
Help for renters was previously missing from the $5-billion financial aid plan unveiled by the B.C. government earlier this week. Horgan said the measures announced Wednesday are part of that $5-billion plan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday federal officials are looking at ways to get money to community housing providers and the nation's renters.
Canada's big banks agreed last week to a federal request to defer mortgage payments for up to six months for people suffering financially due to COVID-19, but Canadians soon reported confusion around eligibility requirements and concern about whether a deferral would mean taking a credit hit.
With files from Marc-Antoine Belanger and The Canadian Press