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What Alberta renters and landlords need to know about the new pandemic rules

Rent comes due on the first of the month, and for many left in precarious financial situations due to the global novel coronavirus pandemic, financial help has yet to arrive.

Rent comes due April 1 — but new rules mean if tenants can't pay, they can't be evicted

Here's what renters and landlords need to know about the new rules that are in place while the province grapples with COVID-19. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Rent comes due on the first of the month, and for many left in precarious financial situations due to the global novel coronavirus pandemic, financial help has yet to arrive.

On Friday, the Alberta government introduced new protections for renters. Here's what that means.

What if I can't pay my rent, or what if my tenant can't pay?

Tenants can't be evicted for non-payment of rent before May 1, the government of Alberta said. 

Instead, the province is asking landlords and tenants to communicate with each other and develop a payment plan while the public health state of emergency is in place.

"We are expecting landlords and tenants to work together to figure out payment plans that help everyone meet financial obligations as we manage COVID-19, and we are doing further policy work on support for renters during these tough times," Premier Jason Kenney said Friday.

However, landlords can still evict tenants if the reason for eviction isn't related to not paying rent — for example, if there's a safety concern or a tenant is partaking in criminal activity. 

If rent isn't paid, can landlords charge a late fee? 

Starting April 1, landlords can't charge late fees on rent for the next three months, even if there's a signed agreement stating late fees can be applied. Those late fees can't be collected retroactively, either.

Can landlords hike rent?

No, rent cannot be increased while the province's state of emergency remains in effect — even if notice of a rent hike was already delivered. That counts for both residential properties and mobile home sites.

Who do I contact if my landlord/tenant and I can't resolve an issue?

In the event of a dispute, either party can turn to the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service. But, the dispute resolution service won't hear disputes about payments unless, the province says, a reasonable attempt has been made to work out the issue first.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, all hearings are being conducted by telephone. 

"Non-urgent applications, such as for damages or return of the security deposit, are being received, but will not be scheduled for hearing while COVID-19 is being managed," the province said.

The Consumer Contact Centre can provide information on many topics related to landlords and tenants. Call 780-427-4088 or toll free 1-877-427-4088.

You can also refer to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) Handbook.

What other financial supports are available?

The province has unveiled a $7.7-billion package to help alleviate financial burdens brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

Here are some of the other supports included:

  • A one-time, emergency isolation support payment of $1,146 if an Albertan has a significant loss of income due to needing to self-isolate, or if they have no other source of compensation. 
  • ATB customers can apply for deferrals on mortgages, loans and lines of credit, and other credit unions are also implementing supports.
  • Interest on student loans is waived for six months, and payments can be deferred for the same period of time. 
  • Utility payments can be deferred for 90 days.

Albertans might also be eligible for federal supports like EI, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the increased Canada Child Benefit and the GST rebate increase.

OK, so what about if I have a mortgage?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau asked the heads of Canada's big banks to allow people to defer mortgage payments for up to six months.

Banks responded by issuing a statement saying they "have made a commitment to work with personal and small business banking customers on a case-by-case basis to provide flexible solutions to help them manage through challenges such as pay disruption due to COVID-19; child-care disruption due to school closures; or those facing illness from COVID-19." Some credit unions have begun offering deferrals as well.

But, not everyone has been able to access that support, and it's been unclear who qualifies for a mortgage deferral with each institution and what level of support they will receive.

With files from CBC Business

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