It's rent day: Here's what some N.W.T. landlords are doing for those who can't pay

As thousands of Canadians face layoffs and small businesses close their doors, rent day on April 1 is the day many across the country, including in the North, have been dreading. Some of the N.W.T.’s landlords are offering a reprieve.

Northview REIT says it will work with tenants who can't pay while other landlords refuse to comment

Northview Apartment REIT, the N.W.T.'s largest landlord, is one of the companies willing to work with tenants if they can't pay April rent. (John Last/CBC)

As thousands of Canadians face layoffs and small businesses close their doors, April 1 is the day many across the country, including in the North, have been dreading.

For the majority of renters, it's the day rent is due.

While the federal and territorial governments have laid out relief packages for those affected by the COVID-19 crisis, it could be weeks before residents actually get their hands on their employment insurance or emergency benefit cheques.

Some of the N.W.T.'s landlords are offering a reprieve.

The territory's largest landlord, Northview Apartment REIT, issued a memo this week telling tenants to contact one of its offices if they can't pay their rent.

"If you are a Northview resident who is suffering financial hardship related to COVID-19 job loss and will be challenged to meet your April rent, please contact your Northview office so that we may work with you to reach a solution," the memo reads.

Northview also said it will not be enforcing any annual rental increases taking effect in April.

Northerners who have lost their job or income during the COVID-19 pandemic may be able to defer their April rental payments, but only if their landlord is on board. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

For those in public housing, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is allowing tenants to defer their rent. The corporation also said it won't be carrying out evictions unless they're for safety reasons.

But not all large landlords are giving tenants options.

Edmonton-based Midwest Property Management, which owns three large apartment buildings in Yellowknife, has not returned multiple calls from CBC North. On its website, the landlord directs tenants to the financial aid package being offered by the federal government.

Polar Developments, which owns two apartment buildings in the city, refused to comment on whether it will be providing tenants with any options for paying April's rent.

Aid for landlords

But not everyone thinks landlords should take the hit if tenants can't make rent.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says the territorial and federal governments need to provide aid to tenants and landlords during the COVID-19 crisis. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly is calling on the territorial government "to deal with the pending residential rent crisis with rent deferrals, rent assistance, and or small landlord assistance."

O'Reilly says he'd like the territory to implement a program similar to what the provincial government of British Columbia announced last week.  

On March 25, the province said it's offering a monthly rebate of up to $500 for three months to take some pressure off tenants struggling to make payments.

The province said the rebate will be paid directly to landlords through BC Housing.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said the money would not arrive in time for the first of the month, but asked tenants and landlords to try and find "co-operation" in the meantime.

O'Reilly says government aid to landlords is crucial because not all are national REITS (real estate investment trusts). Many are northern residents who own one or two small rental properties.

"Those landlords rely on that rent to pay their bills," O'Reilly says.

Landlords unable to defer mortgage payments

When the financial hardships of the pandemic began to hit Canadians last month, the federal government announced that it had worked with the country's largest banks to give homeowners the option to postpone mortgages for up to six months if they're affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The problem for many landlords is that the majority of the banks won't offer mortgage deferral if the property is not the landlord's primary residence. This means landlords are still on the hook for their April and May mortgage payments.

Neither the federal nor territorial government has announced any aid directly attached to rental units or renters, but on Wednesday, Caroline Wawzonek, the N.W.T.'s finance minister, told reporters it was something the territorial government was looking into. 


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