The federal government has suggested unemployed workers may not begin to receive cheques until mid-April at the earliest
Landlords are using Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly announced measures supporting unemployed workers as an excuse to demand rent money in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, in some cases threatening the possibility of eviction.
One unintended consequence of that plan is landlords mistakenly believe tenants have no reason to miss rent on April 1 — even though Finance Minister Bill Morneau admits it may take weeks for unemployed workers to receive cheques.
Over the last week, PressProgress has received hundreds of e-mails from ordinary Canadians who say their landlords are threatening to evict them in the middle of a public health emergency.
Is your landlord threatening to evict you during the coronavirus pandemic?
Are they increasing rent? Asking for advance payments? Making unreasonable demands while you’re sick or struggling to make ends meet?
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) March 19, 2020
Many respondents provided documentation showing landlords are citing Trudeau’s assistance for unemployed workers to deny requests for leniency on rent, even though its unlikely renters will receive government cheques before April 1.
Karen, a Calgary renter who recently lost her job due to the coronavirus pandemic, said her landlord is refusing to grant an extension on rent.
“I’ve been in this house 10 years and paid rent early every month for 10 years,” Karen told PressProgress. “I want to pay rent in full, I just need an extension.”
Karen supplied PressProgress with a copy of an e-mail from her landlord, a Calgary lawyer representing firms in the energy industry, who told her “a large part of the point of the government’s measures are so that individuals like me do not have to absorb postponements.”
The e-mail cites the federal “Emergency Care Benefit” and links to a Toronto Star article quoting Trudeau saying: “No one should have to worry about paying rent.”
“I’m not sure if the benefits will be enough,” Karen told PressProgress. “Day to day life has been filled with extreme stress due to this … I’ve been trying to eat only one meal a day to save money.”
Victoria, a renter in Barrie, Ontario, told PressProgress her “landlord is asking myself and others to borrow money from roommates and/or family to pay rent.”
“If it’s still not paid, he’s threatened to evict.”
An e-mail shows her landlord suggested if she can’t hit up “family or roommates” for rent money, “the government is currently promising financial assistance to those in need,” and provided a link to the Finance Canada’s COVID-19 website.
London Properties did not respond to requests for comment from PressProgress.
One Edmonton renter named Megan said she and her roommate “just got laid off from both our jobs due to the COVID-19 problems.” Both are now “self-isolating.”
“I have already tried contacting my landlord about either delaying rent until at least June or July as we will both be out of work for at least three months,” Megan told PressProgress. Her landlord said “no and rent is still to proceed as normal.”
Megan’s landlord, a property management firm called Broadstreet Properties, sent her an e-mail dated March 17 responding to a question about leniency on rent.
“No you will have to contact the government for that,” a Broadstreet Properties representative wrote. “We still have to collect rents.”
Broadstreet Properties did not respond to a request for comment. Megan says she is currently in the process of applying for Employment Insurance, but is unsure if it will be enough to cover rent.
Denise, a Fredericton, New Brunswick renter, received an e-mail from her landlord expressing solidarity with “the vulnerable among us,” but reminding tenants rent is still due on April 1.
“We are not making any changes to our lease agreements and rent is still due on the 1st day of each month,” notes the e-mail from Gorham Real Estate.
The e-mail notes New Brunswick has “waived the waiting period to collect EI” and advises those “laid off from work” to check out a federal government website on collecting emergency benefits and employment insurance.
“All we’re asking is that tenants communicate with us as soon as possible if they’re concerned or unable to pay their rent at the first of the month,” Alex Gorham, one of the firms licensed real estate agents, told PressProgress.
Gorham confirmed renters have already contacted him about having trouble paying rent, but declined to comment further as they are “private discussions.” Asked if his firm will continue issuing eviction notices during the coronavirus pandemic, Gorham reiterated that the firm simply follows provincial law.
Following the interview, Denise notified PressProgress that Gorham’s firm had guaranteed her “no evictions will happen before May 31.”
Kylie, a renter in Toronto, told PressProgress her roommate lost their job when bars and restaurants were ordered shut down due to the public health emergency. She worries her company will soon issue layoffs too.
When Kylie told her landlord about her “precarious” situation, her landlord told her to apply for government assistance.
“The government is providing unemployment insurance or emergency benefits to everyone in need for the next 15 weeks,” Kylie’s landlord wrote. “It is done specifically to help people pay their rent and their groceries.”
Her landlord suggested she was not willing to show any flexibility on rent because she needs money to “pay the utilities and for me to survive as well.”
Two separate renters in Penticton and Nanaimo, BC provided copies of a March 19 memo sent to tenants of buildings owned by Pacific Cove Properties.
“We at Pacific Cove have been closely following the developing COVID-19 situation,” reads the memo. “We understand this is a time of great stress for many people.”
The letter announced a new “15-day grace period” before issuing eviction notices.
“While rent will continue to be due on the 1st, we will not be serving 10-day notices to end tenancy until the 15th of the month for tenants who routinely pay their rent on time,” the letter states.
The letter cites federal and provincial measures to “help those people whose income has been affected by the pandemic” as a reason for sticking to strict rent deadlines.
Pacific Cove did not respond to a request for comment from PressProgress.
Rebecca, another renter in Vancouver, said she can no longer make rent after their employer recently reduced their pay. The renter supplied PressProgress with e-mails from Helen Wong, a representative of the property management firm Anson Realty.
After notifying the property manager they’re having trouble making rent, Wong told the renter they have no good excuse because Finance Minister Bill Morneau had announced a plan to help every unemployed Canadian pay rent.
Wong told the renter that if they needed any help paying rent, they could rely on “government aid” or their “credit card.” Ultimately, Wong told the renter that if they can’t make rent, they could always “leave” their home.
Wong initially told PressProgress the e-mails were “fake news,” but later changed her tone in a second conversation.
“Under normal circumstances — not the COVID-19 — a tenant who doesn’t pay rent, of course they have to leave,” Wong explained. “But now is a special situation.”
Wong said her firm acts as a “middle person” between renters and property owners. She conceded one way to “solve this problem” could be “deferring the rent,” but said that “it’s up to the owner.”
When asked if any property owners had told her they were willing to make a special exception for renters, Wong said “no.”
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, nearly half of all renters in Canada have less than a months worth of savings on hand.
Editor’s Note: Some renters quoted in this story live in homes or small buildings with a handful of units owned by a single landlord. In order to protect these individuals from retribution, this story has redacted identifiable information about some renters and some landlords. Some names of renters have also been replaced with aliases at the renter’s request.