The sudden spread of COVID-19 has forced all of us across the country to participate in social distancing and spend more and more time at home. But for many of us, the concept of home is also a source of anxiety; with more than 4.4 million renters in Canada, many are worried about how they will make payments in the coming months.
In the past weeks, the federal government has made announcements for economic support and loan deferrals, but, so far, very little has been said about the future of rent payments in Canada. Instead they have enacted a number of measures that could affect your income, either directly or indirectly, to help you make those payments.
At the provincial level, a number of provinces have decided to freeze evictions and offer additional support to residents. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation is providing an updated list of where each province stands on eviction bans and suspensions to support renters, linking to each province’s announcements. Many contain additional details, such as BC’s $500 supplement for renters experiencing loss of income, and BC Hydro customers’ ability to defer payments.
To date, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick all froze evictions, although many have exempted evictions related to health and safety issues, including unlawful activity.
At both the federal and provincial levels, governments have focused on income supplementation to support tenants’ efforts to pay their rent, rather than to change the payment itself. To do this, the government announced a few measures. The most recent and far reaching is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
The CERB will provide a taxable benefit of $2,000 to Canadians for up to four months. This benefit covers most people who aren’t eligible for employment insurance (EI), including contract or gig workers and those who are still employed, but are unable to work. The CERB applies to:
For a detailed list of eligibility information, please visit the CERB site.
Applications for the CERB are now accessible through a secure web portal and a toll-free phone number. Those already receiving EI will continue to receive it and do not need to apply for the CERB, and Canadians who have already applied for EI whose applications have not been processed do not need to reapply. Those who are not eligible for EI payments will automatically be rolled over to the CERB application. You can read the full details in the official announcement and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Q&A, and find a full screen-by-screen breakdown of the CERB application process here.
Prior to announcing the CERB, the federal government also announced expanded EI and support for individuals and families, including:
For the full list of supports and specifics on each, including online applications, you can visit Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.
So far, British Columbia is the only province to offer any substantial direct supplementation for rent. Nova Scotia is also offering an additional $50 a week for individuals and families. Ontario has enacted other measures for low-income seniors, and support for electricity bills with off-peak hours pricing. BC and Alberta are both offering one-time payments for residents who must self-isolate, to be paid in May and April respectively.
Effective March 30, the federal government is pausing student loan payments until September 30, 2020. During this time, payments will not accrue any interest. You do not need to apply, and the pause will happen automatically, even if your payments are automatically taken from your bank account through pre-authorized debit. Many Canadians have a mixture of federal and provincial student loans. This pause only applies to federal loans, with the provincial loans at the discretion of each province (many provinces are following suit, including Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario). Be sure to check with your province to see if your payments are on pause.
If the extra supplemental measures are not enough to make rent, now is the time to talk to your landlord. COVID-19 has created unprecedented circumstances and having an open and honest conversation about your situation is the best way to find a solution. You might be able to work out partial payments, use your last month’s rent or damage deposit to pay your current rent, or establish a timeline that works for both of you. Some property management companies, such as Park Property Management have released statements about COVID-19. Park Property specifically states that if renters are having trouble making their payments to reach out to discuss payment plans, while others like the Minto Group and Killam Apartments have set up websites to bring updates to residents.
While the federal government hasn’t announced anything specific for renters (as of yet), it has announced that the “Big Six” Canadian banks will be offering mortgage deferrals for up to six months. How this applies to renters is tricky.
While some landlords might be able to defer, some landlords rely on rent as their primary source of income, and reporting suggests a number of landlords are already operating at a deficit once you factor in condo fees and insurance.
Even if your province has frozen evictions, you should still reach out to your landlord. Your rights as a tenant largely depend on the laws in your province, so familiarize yourself with your provincial regulations. It’s also at the discretion of your landlord whether they report any lack of payment to a credit agency, which could impact your credit score. Your landlord could report the money you owe to a collection agency, which in turn would result in the sum collecting very high interest, while dramatically affecting your credit rating. The better communication you have with your landlord, the more they can plan for their own finances and the more likely you are to avoid conflict over missed payments.
Lastly, if you cannot pay your rent and your landlord is trying to evict you, reach out to your provincial tenants board, as well as local housing advocacy groups. Housing advocates have been calling for more aggressive measures to protect renters, and groups like the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario or the Align Association of Community Services in Alberta can be a valuable resource.
In this constantly evolving situation, all levels of government are evaluating what they can provide for relief in the coming weeks and there will likely be more announcements. Regardless of your situation, continue to check for updates to see what’s available to you during this difficult time.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.