With May’s rent due at the end of the week, commercial property tenants and landlords are confused over Ottawa’s rent assistance because the scant details about the program have left them unsure of whether they are eligible and for how much.
Tenants and their landlords are uncertain over a raft of requirements, including whether the $50,000 monthly rent cap is for the base rent or gross rent, which includes shared operating costs such as maintenance and realty taxes.
Under the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program unveiled Friday, property owners could apply to the country’s housing agency for taxpayer funds that would cover half of its distressed tenant’s rent for April, May and June. The landlord and the tenant would each be responsible for one-quarter of the total rent.
The landlord is eligible for the funds if its tenant has lost a minimum of 70 per cent of its revenue and the monthly rent is $50,000 or less.
“I don’t know if the landlord will apply or not," said Kerry Warnaar, owner of Jungle Oasis, an indoor playground in Orangeville, Ont., whose revenue dropped to zero in mid-March when the province shut non-essential work to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Although Ms. Warnaar and other small businesses welcomed Ottawa’s support, the rent relief program still lacks details. Ms. Warnaar worries about whether the operating costs are included. She said her monthly base rent is $4,786 but the gross rent, including all additional fees, is $10,113.08
For businesses with multiple locations, they do not know whether the $50,000 cap is per location or across their entire portfolio. Another source of confusion is whether a property owner without a mortgage can apply for the relief, as the federal Finance Department’s website specifies a “mortgaged property owner.” But the Finance Department told The Globe late on Monday that the assistance will be available to commercial property owners who don’t have a mortgage.
Another source of confusion is whether a property owner can apply on behalf of one tenant or whether the landlord will have to submit an application for the entire building, which could mean the entire building would get a break on rent.
“The main concern that I am hearing from our clients, is that the landlord may be reluctant to enroll in the program out of fear of losing the 25 per cent from their office tenants or those tenants that have the ability to pay,” said Stan Krawitz, vice-chairman with commercial real estate company Savills Canada, who represents tenants of all sizes. “There is no clarity on whether the landlord can apply on a tenant-by-tenant basis or building-by-building basis.”
In response to Globe questions on Monday, Ottawa repeated that it would unveil more details in coming days. It has said the program will be up and running by mid-May.
For Jungle Oasis, the difference in monthly payments between subsidizing rent and subsidizing all related costs alongside it is more than $3,500. “I don’t want to go further into debt because of this,” said Ms. Warnaar, who has already taken out an interest-free $40,000 Canada Emergency Business Account loan. “The stress of not knowing is what’s so upsetting to me.”
Ms. Warnaar’s April rent was deferred. She is waiting to hear back from her property manager and does not know what she has to pay when rent is due Friday. “I don’t know if I will have to pay $10,000,” she said.
Landlords big and small have said they are open to applying for the subsidy and taking the 25-per-cent reduction to pass the savings to their tenants.
Joel Posluns just paid off the commercial loan for his building in North Vancouver in March. He’s semi-retired and uses it as an income property and, in normal times, teaches aikido in one of the units. Because he has no mortgage on the property, he believes he’s ineligible to apply for the forgivable loan to pass on savings to tenants, which include a local comic, toy and game shop called Big Pete’s Collectibles.
“It seems to me that this program is more aimed at keeping the commercial lending portfolios of the banks whole, at the expense of small landlords like myself,” he said.
In April, big retail landlords such as Ivanhoé Cambridge, RioCan REIT and SmartCentres REIT offered rent deferrals for some of their hardest-hit tenants. SmartCentres has said it is open to taking the 25-per-cent reduction for some of its tenants.
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