Alberta premier reluctant to legislate renter protection from evictions

Alberta should pass urgent legislation banning landlords from evicting tenants unable to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Opposition says.

Ontario, B.C. and Quebec have taken steps to protect tenants during the pandemic

Rachel Notley calls on the province to create rules to protects renters during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Premier Jason Kenney says it should remain up to the landlords to show 'flexibility.' 1:16

Alberta's premier has called on landlords to have empathy for renters during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the NDP Opposition says stronger measures are necessary to prevent tenant evictions.

NDP leader Rachel Notley said Friday that Alberta should pass urgent legislation banning landlords from evicting tenants unable to pay rent. She said both residential and commercial renters deserve reassurance landlords will allow them to stay put as some jobs evaporate during the crisis.

"We are definitely hearing from people that they are being threatened — that in the absence of paying their full rent, that they will get eviction notices," Notley told reporters at the legislature on Friday.

Earlier this week, Premier Jason Kenney urged Alberta landlords to be compassionate while the coronavirus pandemic and rock-bottom oil prices prompt layoffs. 

On Friday, he noted that some rental management companies are promising no evictions for unpaid rent for the month of April and said emergency cash payments to people in isolation without income should help prevent such evictions.

But he was clear that he wants to avoid a blanket solution.

"This is a complex issue. We don't want to make the situation even worse unintentionally."

Some "mom-and-pop" landlords with a couple of tenants may rely on rent to meet their mortgage payments, he said. Landlords also need the ability to evict irresponsible tenants engaged in crime or vandalism, he said.

The government's hesitance is understandable to Roberto Noce, a lawyer who specializes in condominium and real estate law, who says a tenant's inability to pay can become a problem for the landlord who is being equally pressured to pay mortgage, tax and utility bills.

"I will say this to a renter," Noce said Friday to CBC Radio's Radio Active. "If you are in a position where you know that you will not be able to meet your monthly deadline to pay rent, reach out to your landlord.

"Hiding and not responding and ignoring your landlord's plea for payment is not going to help the situation."

Notley said Alberta needs a law to ensure all landlords act reasonably and compassionately.

The Alberta and federal governments have allowed property owners to defer mortgage payments during the outbreak. Renters deserve the same leeway, she said.

"We don't have a lot of time. Rent is due in 11 days."

Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and B.C. have all taken measures to prevent some or all landlords from evicting tenants affected by the spread of COVID-19.

Noce noted that some landlords will have the ability to defer rent, but others simply may not.

"I would encourage people to work together to find solutions," he said. "This is so unusual that I can't even begin to say to people how to act because there is no precedent. … We've never done this before."

Emergency law changed rapidly in the House

Legislators also powered through changes Friday that will clear up confusion when both municipalities and the province declare states of emergency.

In less than an hour, MLAs approved the Emergency Management Amendment Act. Government house leader Jason Nixon said he made the move to prevent jurisdictional tussles as many municipalities and First Nations declare states of emergency in response to the pandemic.

As it was previously written, the Emergency Management Act would see a provincial declaration of an emergency supersede any emergency declarations already in place in cities or towns.

That process made sense when an emergency was localized to one area — like the Fort McMurray Wildfire, or the High River floods — but not during a public health crisis, Nixon said.

"Municipalities know what is best for their residents," Nixon said. "We are simply getting out of their way and letting them do it."

The City of Calgary, 17 other municipalities and five Alberta First Nations have called local states of emergency in response to the pandemic.

Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Barry Morishita said in a statement Friday the change is helpful and cuts red tape for municipalities.

Property taxes in question

The provincial government may allow non-residential property owners to delay property tax payments to municipalities, the premier said Friday.

Kenney said the government is trying to decide how to give commercial and industrial land owners tax relief without hurting municipalities' bottom lines.

As the pandemic prompts the province to dole out aid, the government should avoid over-committing and putting its own finances in jeopardy, he said. 

 "It's no secret that our revenues are, frankly, falling through the floor with the oil price crash and the global recession, and so we need to keep an eye on how much money's in our bank account," Kenney said.

Earlier on Friday, NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said the government should allow municipalities to defer collection of civic and education property taxes until the outbreak has waned. The provincial government, with its borrowing power, should temporarily provide money to villages and cities until they can collect those taxes owing, Ceci said.

The government should also cancel a planned hike to education property taxes this year, he said.

Despite suggestions the legislature may need to sit through the weekend, Nixon said the house will rise until Tuesday, when more emergency legislation in response to the pandemic will come.

The premier has said he wants the sitting to carry on as long as possible until the chief medical health officer advises the legislature should close.

According to the Alberta legislature library, the last time the chamber met on a Saturday was April 7, 1951. There is no record of the legislature sitting on a Sunday.


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