No signs of relief for renters as April 1 approaches
TORONTO -- After cancellations started to snowball for Toronto dog walker Joe Rutherford in March, he feared he wouldn’t be able to make rent in April.
He quickly lost more than 80 per cent of his business in 48 hours as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened and more clients began to work from home. His musician friend lost months’ worth of gigs and income just as quickly, as did thousands of others around the country.
For many of those Canadians, Tuesday feels like the eleventh hour with rent payments due on Wednesday.
“If we’re mandated to be home and we have to be, then someone should probably be giving us the political framework to make that happen,” Rutherford told CTVNews.ca. “We're in the eleventh hour. It’s the 31st and the government hasn’t done anything.”
Rutherford started a petition on change.org earlier this month to call for the national cancellation of rent payments. It was signed by more than 750,000 within two weeks. Now, there’s a joint campaign between a number of Canadian groups who want the government to act. There are more than than 840,000 signatures across multiple petitions from Change.org, ACORN Canada, Leadnow, FMTA, BCGEU, Vancouver Tenants Union and North99. The petitions were delivered digitally to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s premiers on Monday, the groups told CTVNews.ca.
“If tenants are choosing between necessities like food and rent, they should choose food over rent,” said ACORN Canada National President Marva Burnett in a statement. “The government needs to create a pot of money to which landlords can apply to when tenants can't afford their rent.”
On Tuesday, when asked about rent payments at his daily press conference, Trudeau pointed to the government’s promised relief for small businesses but didn’t address any specific renter relief for April 1.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford reiterated earlier comments at a press conference on Tuesday, saying that people who still have an income should be paying rent on Wednesday.
“This isn’t a blank cheque that people can just say, 'OK, I’m not paying my rent.' If you’re working, you have to pay your rent," he said, adding that his government passed legislation that prevents landlords from evicting people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and can’t pay.
"I highly recommend communicating with your landlord, work with your landlord and do the very best. Landlords are going to have to work with the tenants as well,” he said. “You can’t just throw people out on the streets in these terrible, terrible times.”
Most provincial governments have yet to offer any explicit rent relief for Canadians worried about making a payment. B.C. has offered up to $500 as rent rebate to those who have seen a significant drop in their income due to COVID-19, but specified that anyone still working is expected to pay.
Some provinces have banned evictions like Ontario, others are offering subsidies for landlords, but these solutions amount to “patchwork,” said Claire Gallagher, a senior campaigner with non-profit Leadnow, on CTV News Channel.
Petitioners are calling for an all-out cancellation of rent on April 1 — not just a deferral — until people can safely return to work and pay rent as they were able to in the past.
“We know that a lot of renters are not in a position where they can accumulate debt now to pay off later down the line,” she said. “It’s going to lead to really worrying circumstances where people might not be able to pay that backlog of rent or maybe even face eviction at a later date.”
Some groups believe that the way to send a signal is for everyone to keep their April 1st rent. That’s what one group of artists are planning to do if they can’t reach a deal with their landlord.
Phil Sutherland, one of the tenants, told CTV News that he and his friends are “not thinking anyone should get a free ride.
“I think just a displacement of six months like other countries is a reasonable expectation for Canada.”
In Toronto, where half of all households are made up of renters, a Toronto rental company is allowing tenants to use their rent deposit as a credit toward their April payment.
“They paid the last month's deposit so there's an argument that it's their money,” Justin Taylor, chief operating officer at Greenrock Resident Services told CTV News. “And so we're just letting them use it really in a way that is in their best interest right now for them.”
While some of Canada's biggest residential landlords have said they will work with tenants who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, smaller landlords who rely on rent as their source of income may not be able to offer such flexibility. While some banks have offered mortgage deferrals to help, those programs aren’t available to all homeowners.
That’s why some of the national petitions are also targeting mortgage payments, said Gallagher.
“We expanded our call to include rent cancellation and mortgage payment cancellation, including interest, while we’re in this public health crisis,” she said. “We really believe that no one should fall into debt or risk losing their home because of COVID-19.”
Rutherford’s landlord didn’t qualify for a mortgage deferral, he told CTVNews.ca, but she was willing to offer him some flexibility. “She said we’re all in this together and we’ll make up the difference later on,” he said.
For now, he’s paid half of his April 1 rent. The compromise allows him to save some funds aside, just in case, as his business remains non-operational.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Alexandra Mae Jones