The Current

Tenants and landlords say more action from governments needed as rent comes due

As renters say they can’t make rent, a Victoria tenants group tells The Current the B.C. government should suspend rent and mortgage payments. The President of an Ontario landlords organization says new measures are needed so landlords still get paid.

‘We can't go on for a very long time without more assistance coming through’ says landlord rep

A Victoria tenants group is calling for April mortgage and rent payments to be deferred because of the pandemic. (Stewart Butterfield/Flickr)

Read Story Transcript

Rent is due, but the pandemic is affecting many tenants' ability to pay, leaving landlords and tenants in a difficult standoff. 

Bryan Doherty, a Toronto carpenter, told The Current host Matt Galloway he simply can't pay the $2,000 he owes in rent on April 1. 

"Not only do I not have the money, but what little money I have, there are no assurances that any more of it's coming in April," Doherty said. 

Doherty is far from the only Canadian enduring financial hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic has stunted the global economy as states of emergency and physical distancing measures shutter businesses and keep workers at home. 

One-third of Canadians worried about next rent or mortgage payment: poll

2 years ago
A new poll by Angus Reid showed that Canadian households are already hurting because of loss of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:15

A recent survey commissioned by the Angus Reid Institute found 44 per cent of respondents said they or someone in their household lost hours of work due to the economic downturn. Of those respondents, 66 per cent said their employers were not covering any lost wages. 

Thirty-four per cent of respondents said they were worried about their households missing a rent or mortgage payment this month.

Doherty said he and other tenants he's organizing with think "the responsible decision, faced with severe economic uncertainty and potential threats to our health, is to keep our money where it is, what little we have, and try and ride this out together."

That means not paying rent. 

Government aid coming but not here yet

Doherty said his landlord issued a letter saying rent is due and tenants facing financial hardship should seek financial help from the government. 

The federal government has announced significant measures to put money in peoples' pockets. But some of those measures, like the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, are still days away from taking effect.   

In Doherty's case, rent is due at midnight.

Tony Irwin, president and CEO of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario, says anyone who can pay rent should.

Tony Irwin is the president and CEO of the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario. (Event Imaging)

He said his organization is urging landlords to communicate with tenants about how they plan to keep their buildings safe and to provide updates on incoming public assistance. 

Their message to tenants who can't pay rent is to "pay what they can. And then to talk about accessing government assistance and coming up with a plan with their landlord to deal with the rest," Irwin said.  

"We recognize there are many people who are financially distressed and no one wants anyone to be in that position. As an industry, we're here to work with our residents, help them come up with a plan. But in order to do that, we do need rent to be paid by those who can pay it, so we can help those who cannot."

Victoria group calling for mortgage and rent suspension

Doherty said landlords should "take their financial concerns and the difficulties up with their financial institutions and their lenders. The idea that they would come after tenants under these circumstances is unacceptable and likely they won't get much out of it."

In Ontario, there is a ban in effect on evictions, meaning landlords cannot evict tenants who don't pay their rent. At least not yet.

Irwin said he hopes government aid will support landlords and tenants in rent payments to avoid a future situation where landlords and tenants are fighting over previously-due payments. 

According to Cam Welch of the Victoria Tenant Action Group, April rent and mortgage payments in his province should be suspended, not subsidized or deferred.

"It needs to just be wiped off the books. The banks and the government can take a hit for a month, a hit that renters and often their landlords aren't able to absorb, because to create a debt and an eviction crisis in the summer isn't a tenable solution either."

Welch said people who pay rent during this crisis may have to give up money they want to spend on essentials like food or medication. Or, they may be forced to go out and look for work at a time when people are being told it's safest to stay home. 

Irwin said his organization is working with governments, banks and lenders on behalf of the landlords he represents to come up with a solution. 

"We can't go on for a very long time without more assistance coming through. Not only what's been announced already, but probably additional assistance as well."

Written by Justin Chandler. Produced by Matt Amha and Sarah-Joyce Battersby.

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