April 1 is tomorrow. That means for a third of Canadian households, rent should be due. But what happens if you can’t pay it because of Covid-19?
This is the reality for a growing number of people. Almost half of working renters only have enough savings to cover a month of bills if they lose their jobs, according to new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. One in 3 households say they may miss a rent or mortgage payment this month because of the pandemic.
If this is also your reality, the first thing to know is that you have options. If you can’t pay rent, almost all provinces and territories have suspended evictions (see a full list below). But what does that mean? And how should you navigate it?
The second thing to know is that governments have announced a range of financial supports for struggling Canadians. Most won’t be available to people by the time April rent is due, but they should be by May.
So our advice is to focus on getting through this particular moment, as best you can.
Here are three steps how:
1. Talk to your landlord
Let them know you can’t afford to pay rent right now because of Covid-19. (In fact, landlords are being encouraged to check in with tenants instead of waiting for them to reach out.) Nearly all provinces and territories have said that landlords are expected to let tenants defer rent payments for a period of time.
Here’s a list of protections for renters by location:
- Ontario has suspended new and active eviction orders until further notice.
- British Columbia has halted new and active evictions and created a $500 rent rebate for landlords.
- Alberta has suspended evictions for non-paying renters until at least May 1.
- Quebec has suspended most eviction hearings.
- Saskatchewan has suspended evictions for non-payment of rent.
- Manitoba has suspended non-urgent evictions.
- Nova Scotia has ordered a 3-month ban on evictions for people who can't afford their rent.
- New Brunswick has suspended evictions for non-payment of rent until May 31.
- PEI has suspended rent-related evictions in social housing, and is offering a $250 rent rebate for landlords.
- Yukon has suspended evictions for non-payment of rent for 90 days (effect March 26).
- NWT has suspended rent-related evictions in social housing.
- Newfoundland and Labrador has suspended evictions for those who have lost income resulting from Covid-19 and not able to pay rent.
Unfortunately, governments haven’t been explicit about exactly how non-payment should be handled. The most common advice is to try to establish good communication, as early as possible.
2. Make the case, hold your ground
Your landlord may say they can’t afford to not have you pay rent, since they need it to cover the mortgage or other costs.
Let them know that there are supports available to them, like the temporary rent supplement in BC or relief on utility bills. A number of banks are also offering mortgage deferrals for homeowners. Some cities are allowing property owners to defer paying their property taxes, too.
If you are still being threatened with eviction because you can’t pay your rent, know your rights. Even if your landlord gives you an eviction notice, you are not legally evicted.
To force you from your home, your landlord needs to apply for and receive a court-ordered eviction order. But most provinces aren't hearing new payment-related cases, issuing new eviction orders, or enforcing most existing ones. This is how evictions are being prevented right now. Learn more in this Toronto Star article about the difference between an eviction notice and an eviction order.
In Ontario, people should contact the ministry’s rental housing enforcement unit if they’ve been locked out of their unit or threatened with a similar situation, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing told HuffPost.
If you still have questions or concerns, contact your local tenants advocacy organization.
Keep in mind that as of right now, you'll still have to pay any deferred rent later. And you may have to pay a late fee or interest on top of that, depending on where you live. This is why financial assistance, alongside the recently announced wage subsidy for businesses, is so important. As well as continued advocacy on behalf of renters, to make sure they're not being punished for circumstances beyond their control.
It’s not clear yet what will happen if people can’t pay their accumulated rent later, but this needs to be a serious concern for governments.
3. Apply for financial assistance ASAP
For those who can’t pay rent this week or month, financial support could be on the way.
The federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will provide $2,000 a month for up to four months, to just about any worker – including freelance, self-employed or contractor – who has lost income due to Covid-19. Applications for the CERB are expected to open in “early April”. Payments should start within 10 days of application.
Employment Insurance, including Sickness Benefits, are also available to some workers who have fallen ill or lost their jobs.
Gen Squeeze has developed a quick guide to the different financial supports available and how to access them.
Several provinces have funding available to people who are out of work or can't pay their bills. If you haven’t already applied, this provincial money likely won’t arrive soon enough for April’s rent. But it could offer relief for May and beyond.
If you can't pay rent, you're probably feeling overwhelmed. That's why our advice is to develop a basic strategy for getting through this month.
This month will also reveal who is being helped by these supports, and who is falling through the cracks. It's unclear if the supports that have been announced will protect everyone, especially if you're really vulnerable.
So keep us posted on how you're holding up. Are you feeling supported if you can't pay rent? Or are you afraid of getting evicted? And maybe most importantly, where do you still feel you need help? Send us a message.