Edmonton

New bill would prevent commercial evictions, but provide no rent relief for Alberta businesses

A new bill introduced by Alberta’s United Conservative government proposes a ban on commercial evictions but provides no financial relief for business owners beyond rent deferral to the end of August. 

Bill 23 proposes to protect businesses from eviction until Aug. 31

Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Minister Tanya Fir introduces Bill 23 on Tuesday. (CBC )

A new bill introduced by Alberta's United Conservative government proposes a temporary ban on commercial evictions but provides no financial relief for business owners beyond rent deferral to the end of August. 

Bill 23, the Commercial Tenancies Protection Act, protects businesses affected by COVID-19-related closures from facing eviction, rent increases and late fees due to missed rent until Aug. 31, if their landlords refuse to sign up for the federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program.

The Alberta bill does not provide rent relief to affected businesses. Instead, the government is presuming property owners and tenants can work out a repayment plan.

The decision to provide a discount on rent remains with the landlord, meaning they can still demand the full amount owing from March 17 to Aug. 31. 

Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Minister Tanya Fir acknowledged the legislation rests on the expectation that landlords and tenants will work together to survive the pandemic. 

"We're confident that Alberta businesses, landlords and tenants, are going to do just that — come up with a payment plan that works for each individual situation," Fir said in a news conference. 

"We're not being prescriptive, dictating what the terms and conditions of that rent payment plan have to look like." 

However, Bill 23 doesn't protect businesses dealing with a reluctant or recalcitrant landlord.

A tenant who is unable to reach a repayment agreement with their landlord faces eviction at the end of August. The only remedy for a business is to go to court. 

The bill also doesn't reverse evictions that occurred prior to Tuesday, the proposed legislation's start date.

Fir says only a small number of cases will result in evictions. 

"Landlords and tenants have the same goal. To make it through this [pandemic] successfully," she said. 

Jon Carson, the NDP opposition critic for Service Alberta, said Bill 23 doesn't provide any incentive for landlords to sign up for the federal program and only "kicks the can down the road" for businesses that continue to face a drastic cut in earnings. 

Carson said he wonders if the bill's presumption that landlords and tenants will want to work out a mutually beneficial deal will actually work. 

"These negotiations have, to some extent, often already broke(n) down," he said. 

"Because if the landlord doesn't have money and the tenant doesn't have money, creating a piece of legislation that says we'll give you some more time to pay that money back is not really solving the problem. It's pushing it further down the road."

The federal rent assistance program provided forgivable loans to commercial landlords as long as they reduce their tenants' rent by 75 per cent for April, May and June. 

But some landlords have refused to take part in the program, leaving their tenants on the hook for their entire rent. 

Fir defended the decision not to provide rent relief by pointing to other federal and provincial measures to help small businesses. 

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