Renters in British Columbia and Alberta have been left out of emergency measures taken in other jurisdictions to put a moratorium on evictions as a result of COVID-19, and at least one tenant says they are being forced to find new housing in the midst of an overwhelming crisis.
Neither B.C. nor Alberta has moved to ban evictions, although Ontario and several large U.S. cities have done so. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney outlined a series of measures Wednesday afternoon to help residents and businesses there, but there was nothing about evictions or housing protection.
Mr. Kenney said the “capacity to forgive rent will vary, but we will look at that.”
In British Columbia, MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said Wednesday he couldn’t say when the province might do something after he was directed by the Premier a day earlier to consult with renter groups and providers about what steps to take.
“Everything is on the table,” said Mr. Herbert, from an evictions moratorium to payments directly to tenants to make sure they can cover their rent.
“There are challenges of people not being able to pay rent and having to be in quarantine. And we know with small landlords, the rent cheque is key to paying their mortgage.”
Leah Rose Tottenham has always paid rent on time and has worked to be a quiet tenant who doesn’t cause problems.
But Mx. Tottenham, who identifies as gender neutral, is facing being thrown out of the apartment that has been home for the past year and a half. That’s because the landlord suddenly decided to enforce the apartment’s no-subletting clause and Mx. Tottenham’s friend, who holds the lease, has been served an eviction notice.
“I’m going to dispute this to buy time, but it’s a terrible time to find housing,” said Mx. Tottenham, a public-service employee who is likely facing a huge rent increase from their current $890 a month, along with a challenging search.
Mx. Tottenham is one of what many housing advocates and local politicians fear could be a wave of people displaced for many reasons in the next few months, as people can’t pay their rent because they’ve been laid off or their small businesses have failed.
In B.C., groups such as the Tenants Resource and Advisory Committee and Vancouver Tenants Union are urging the province to come up with something, along with other measures like a freeze on mortgage foreclosures and financial support for gig workers. Some of those measures have already been announced in the United States., as well as by mayors of large cities, and the province of Ontario.
“Displacing tenants during a pandemic doesn’t make sense, except in exceptional circumstances like criminal activity or violence,” said Andrew Sakamoto of TRAC.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart urged the province Wednesday to move to protect renters. In Alberta, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that it was a needed step.
“One of the primary things we must do now is to protect vulnerable people, and this is an option we must consider,” Mr. Nenshi said in a text message to The Globe and Mail.
But the issue of how to support renters has complications. Landlords in British Columbia are apprehensive about being asked to absorb losses on their own.
“Clearly a moratorium on evictions due to non-payment of rent without a firm commitment to our sector to be made whole is pretty important,” said David Hutniak, the chief executive officer of Landlord BC. “There are a lot of mom-and-pop landlords. If this sector is decimated, it’s not good for renters.”
He said his organization would prefer to see government money go to renters so they can make their payments and he believes the public would support that.
“I think if taxpayers were told the government has to incur a deficit to help renters, I don’t think they’d object to that.”
Lawyer Joey Doyle, who is representing several tenants with eviction notices including Mx. Tottenham, said there needs to be more than just a moratorium.
“Obviously, a moratorium is useful, but if people are still owing three months of rent at the end, they’re never going to pay that back. It needs a more fundamental solution.”
In tenants’ favour during this crisis, the Supreme Court was shut down in B.C. as of Wednesday. Since the final step in any eviction requires a Supreme Court writ of possession, evictors may find their efforts stalled.
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