Rent was due this week, but landlords and tenants struggle to figure out how to handle it - InfoNews

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Rent was due this week, but landlords and tenants struggle to figure out how to handle it

While renters can't be evicted during this pandemic, what will happen to tenants and landlords after the dust settles?
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April 03, 2020 - 3:19 PM

A Kamloops woman has found herself in a tough spot. Her tenant, an international student at Thompson Rivers University, texted her on March 31, expecting their April rent to be waived entirely.

The landlord, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect herself and her tenants, says though she can share and understand their concerns, she was surprised and is finding it difficult to figure out what she should do, from a humanitarian but also a business and personal perspective.

“I think a lot of renters have misunderstood,” she says. “When (the government) says you don't need to worry about rent, it’s that there's support options out there and they're trying to get money into the pockets of British Columbians so they can pay rent, not that they don't have to pay rent… I don't want to take the burden on, but I also don't want to pass on the burden.”

Even Landlord B.C. and the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre seem to be unaware of some of the specific details of the federal and provincial rent initiatives, such as who can apply or how many B.C. tenants will be able to take advantage of these programs.

Beyond the situation of eligibility, representatives from these organizations believe there are other issues that need to be addressed.

Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, says federal and provincial governments have only begun to implement the necessary initiatives to keep renters and landlords financially secure. He says moving forward and after the pandemic, the 1.5 million renters in B.C. will need more protection.

“There are so many renters in the province who aren't immediately going to be able to find work again, are going to be in debt, and aren't going to be able to pay their rent arrears. It's great that there's an eviction moratorium right now, but we can't just kick the eviction can down the road and then have all these mass evictions,” Sakamoto says. “We’ll need more support from the government.”

Sakamoto says the organization, with six full time staff and one part-time position, has been extremely busy receiving calls from tenants concerned about payments, evictions, eligibility and an inability to repay their outstanding rent. Coming out of this pandemic will prove to be a challenge, and he says the group will fight to see the current freeze on rental increases extended.

“We might even go a step further and advocate more for some sort of rent forgiveness program for tenants who are already in the hole and owe money for their landlords, but at the same time, all, particularly small landlords should have some sort of program where they can apply directly to the government for some sort of assistance,” Sakamoto says.

Sakamoto says the model wherein renters apply for a subsidy, which then goes directly to the landlord, is inefficient. He believes landlords should be able to apply directly for the financial assistance, and his belief is somewhat mirrored by Dave Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C.

“The reality is right now, there's been no consideration for if we don't collect rent... The banks have not been completed by either the federal or the provincial government to do mortgage deferrals or anything else frankly to support landlords specifically,” Hutniak says.

Although he doesn’t have an estimate as to how many landlords are in the province, Hutniak presumes there are around 550,000 renter households in B.C., and says his organization of four staff have been dealing with a steep increase in calls.

“The number of people calling us and accessing our content is off the charts,” Hutniak says. “There’s a lot of concern and there’s a lot of information to digest.”

He says the option that some homeowners may have to defer their mortgage through their bank might be jeopardized if they have a rental suite, and he worries that the landlords with just one or two rentals will be the most affected, especially if their tenants can’t pay the full rent.

“Whether you're big or small, it can be a challenging industry. In the context of what we're experiencing right now, I’m extremely concerned for the small mom and pop landlords because they’re extremely vulnerable,” Hutniak says. “If you're a mortgage holder without a basement suite, you are more likely to get it than if you're a mortgage holder with a basement suite even if that basement suite rent is in jeopardy.”

Overall, it is noted on both the landlord and the tenant side that more initiatives are necessary to ensure people can come out of this pandemic with secure housing, with it being their own or a rental.

Both Sakamoto and Hutniak believe that more information will be available next week on how many renters and landlords were affected during the first new month of the Canadian COVID-19 crisis.

The landlord says her husband has been laid off due to the pandemic, and the couple relies on the rental revenue to pay for bills, utilities and other expenses.

She hasn’t yet received rent from the tenant but expects it will come because the tenant is often a few days late. She says she’s willing to consider alternate payment options if the tenant can’t afford rent or receive funding, which she says is uncertain. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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