Sask. Landlord Association sees sharp spike in unpaid rents during COVID-19

A lobbying group for landlords is concerned after seeing a noticeable increase in unpaid rents so far this month.

Association says survey found 27 per cent of renters haven't paid bills yet

The Saskatchewan Landlord Association says it's seen a sharp spike in so-far unpaid rents this month. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

A lobbying group for landlords is concerned after seeing a noticeable increase in unpaid rents so far in April.

The Saskatchewan Landlord Association contacted 200 of its members, who combined own about 8,000 rental units, this week. As of Friday, 27 per cent of renters had not paid their rents, the association said.

A normal month would see a rate of around three per cent.

"When we don't receive the rent that's due, we're unable to pay our own employees," said the association's executive officer Cameron Choquette.

"We are unable to pay our own bills such as insurance, mortgages, property taxes, maintenance and repairs."

Choquette partially blamed the increase on the provincial government's suspension of residential evictions.

Last week, the provincial government ordered the office of residential tenancies to temporarily suspend non-emergency evictions.

Justice Minister Don Morgan said the move was taken to provide renters with security, especially for a growing number of people who are being laid off.

Choquette said the association is concerned people will take advantage of the situation and refuse to pay even if they could afford to do so.

The association says rental properties should be treated the same as any other industry.

While the province has been clear that renters will have to pay their bills eventually, Choquette isn't convinced that will happen.

"Good luck collecting that rent later," he said.

"Landlords already have trouble keeping tenants accountable for their rent because of some of the rights that each party has."

The association would like to see more aid go directly to landlords in an effort to keep the industry sustainable.

Good luck collecting that rent later.- Cameron Choquette, Sask. Landlord Association

Choquette said his industry should be treated like any other business.

"We expect grocery stores to collect money and we expect patrons to pay for their groceries before they leave," he said.

"That's the same rationale in rental housing. If you've used the service, if you've had a roof over your head, then you are forced to pay that that charge."

The association said landlords are working with many tenants to come up with payment plans to help make their rents.

Rent battle

Choquette said he's heard anecdotal evidence that some people on social assistance are intentionally not paying their rent, even though they're receiving the same amount of money per month as usual.

Peter Gilmer with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry said it's not so simple. He said many people on assistance are only receiving $575 for one person in a large city and $525 elsewhere in the province.

"The reality is that people are stuck with extremely difficult choices to make," he said.

"Right now, when there is additional costs related to the present circumstances and all the all the stress factors related to that, this is the time that we need to make sure that there's protections in place."

Gilmer said rents remain high in the province, despite a sharp increase in vacancy rates.

"We really believe that overall rents have been excessive for low income folks for almost 15 years now," he said.

"We have to remember that housing adequate housing is a basic human right and not just another good to be bought and sold on in the marketplace."