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As provincial and federal officials ask more and more Canadians to self-isolate in response to the coronavirus pandemic, housing activists are pushing for a ban on evictions to ensure those people have a home to isolate in.

“With these announcements, some people have lost jobs and lost income. We have a moral imperative to support people at this time,” said Bahar Shadpour, communications co-ordinator for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), which is part of a coalition that has started a petition urging governments to suspend all eviction activities during the crisis. “Having more people evicted into homelessness is a terrible response during this pandemic.”

In the United States, there have been freezes on evictions for the duration of the crisis in New York state, in big cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, and in some cases by police departments such as the one in Miami-Dade County, which promised not to enforce evictions.

The Corporation des propriétaires immobiliers du Québec, which represents 25,000 owners and property managers, struck a tougher line in a press statement posted Friday.

“Tolerating a situation of non-payment of rent for a tenant can have repercussions on other tenants and quickly degenerate into a loss of control,” the CORPIQ statement reads. “It is possible that some tenants who experience income issues due to their absence from work (layoff, loss of income as a self-employed worker, etc.) or who falsely claim this, may request a deferral of their rent payments. Although coronavirus is an unusual situation, the rent remains payable and any default allows the landlord to exercise his recourses before the Régie du logement.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked about an eviction freeze during his Monday press conference on the province’s pandemic response. “Everything, is on the table,” he said. “We will be reviewing everything, we want to make sure everyone is protected … if it comes to hydro bills, evictions … we will have your back.”

On Friday, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General announced that it was suspending all in-person hearings that fall under Tribunals Ontario, which manages everything from the Human Rights Tribunal to the Landlord Tenant Board. But the ministry said that “where feasible, alternative hearing options such as written and telephone hearings will be considered to minimize disruption to hearings across the organization.”

On the weekend, the Greater Toronto Clinic Housing Advocates, a group of lawyers, paralegals and advocates for renters, sent a letter to Attorney General Doug Downey urging him to go further and suspend both new hearings and enforcement of existing eviction orders.

“We ask that the Attorney General direct the Court Enforcement Office (Sheriff) to immediately cease all enforcement of existing eviction orders against renters and writs of possession against homeowners,” reads the letter signed by Benjamin Ries, a staff lawyer with the Downtown Legal Services clinic.

Jesse Robichaud, a spokesperson for the ministry, said in a statement on Monday that “no new eviction orders will be issued until further notice. In addition, Sheriff’s offices have been asked to postpone any scheduled enforcement of eviction orders currently set for this week.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the federal government will soon announce details on a fiscal package to assist Canadians with cash for rent or groceries. That can’t come soon enough for some. According to Ms. Shadpour, 50 per cent of Ontarians who rent make less than $40,000 a year and often have meagre cash cushions in the event of emergencies.

Landlords, too, have been making the case for a bailout.

“No one needs the additional stress of potentially losing their home,” said David Hutniak, chief executive officer of LandlordBC, which represents 3,300 landlords in British Columbia. “It is important to note that any across-the-board non-payment of rent moratorium would have huge negative implications for our sector and, in our view, cannot be contemplated without appropriate offsetting measures being put in place first by all levels of government.”

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