Toronto

Why both businesses and landlords say province's ban on commercial evictions is problematic

Both small businesses and landlords in Ontario are criticizing the province's proposed ban on commercial evictions announced earlier this week, but for very different reasons. 

Ban should be retroactive to mid-March when COVID-19 lockdown began, business improvement association says

Bar owner Christopher Hudspeth says he would have liked the provincial ban on commercial evictions to have happened earlier. (CBC)

Both small businesses and landlords in Ontario are criticizing the province's proposed ban on commercial evictions announced earlier this week, but for very different reasons. 

The ban, if passed, will only apply retroactively to commercial evictions from June 3 to Aug. 31 for businesses that are eligible for the Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, which was brought in to help them weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christopher Hudspeth, owner of Pegasus, a bar on Church Street, and head of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area, is happy about the news, but the rules around the ban are too "restrictive," he says. 

"It's a little late, but I'm glad it's finally happened." 

Hudspeth, who hasn't been bringing in any revenue since the province-wide lockdown in mid-March, says he knows of other businesses who were evicted early on, and said it should be extended. 

"I'd like to see it until the end of the year to give businesses the opportunity to get back up and running and making money so they can pay the rent that's required." 

Hudspeth himself was fighting a landlord who was initially reluctant to apply for rent assistance, but eventually did, so he's protected from being evicted. 

The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association has also been pushing the province to allow businesses that were evicted earlier than June 3 to qualify. 

"It really should be retroactive to March 15," said executive director Kay Matthews.

"That's when they stopped making revenue." 

'Every dollar counts for me'

Other business owners, like Iftekhar Ahmed, say their landlords refused to apply for rent assistance.

Ahmed, who owns a clothing store in Chinatown, was locked out of his shop on Monday, June 8, the same day the province announced the eviction ban. 

To get the keys, he said he had to agree to pay his landlord half of the rent he owed for the last three months. 

"We lost business and we are in very difficult times. Every dollar counts for me." 

Recouping the money

Matthews, with the business improvement area association, is also critical of the way the program works, saying points landlords have to apply, and there's a different application for each tenant. 

"It's a very onerous process." 

Landlord Alexandra Bulut says she feels for her tenants, but points out landlords are also struggling. (Submitted by Alexandra Bulut)

Alexandra Bulut, a landlord who owns four commercial businesses in the Greater Toronto Area, says the rent assistance program, and the province's subsequent eviction ban, has soured her relationships with her tenants.  

"It handcuffs the landlord from being able to operate my business properly." 

Bulut says she hasn't tried to evict anyone and her bottom line is also taking a hit. 

"I sympathize [with my tenants but] If we can't recoup that money, then we're in a very vulnerable position to make our financial obligations." 

The Ontario Ministry of Municipalities and Social Services told CBC News it's asked commercial landlords to "do their part and work with their tenants to access the CERCA program so everyone has an opportunity to recover."

The ministry says it's not responsible for enforcing the rules because conflicts between landlords and tenants are addressed in the courts.

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