VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C. landlords and tenants have both been left disappointed by the province’s plan to address missed rent payments amid the pandemic.
On Thursday, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson announced the ban on evictions due to non-payment of rent will be lifted Sept. 1.
Starting Oct. 1, tenants will be able to enter into repayment plans for missed payments due to COVID-19. Rent debt will have to be repaid by July of 2021.
“I think the government’s announcement is going to be disappointing to a lot of different groups out there. I think it’s going to be disappointing to tenants who haven’t yet seen their income come back, or have lost their jobs or haven’t been able to find new ones,” says Robert Patterson with the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, who adds renters have been disproportionately affected by job losses.
“For small landlords, there are bills and expenses that need to be paid now,” he continues. “The promise of getting paid later isn’t going to help them pay their mortgage sooner.”
The average rent for a one-bedroom in Vancouver is $2,100. Four months of unpaid rent would mean a debt of $8,400, which comes to an additional $840 per month when stretched over the repayment period.
The province provided rental supplements ranging from $300 to $500 and a one-time payment of $1,000 to those whose income was affected by COVID-19. However, a tenant who was able to pay half of the average rent for four months would be on the hook for $420 more per month.
“Even if they can pay full rent on Sept. 1, if they’ve had significant periods of time where they couldn’t pay their full rent a payment plan that spreads that over the next year means that they may not be able to afford October’s rent which is when those payment plans kick in,” Patterson says.
Moreover, he says the province’s plan fails to factor in how tightly renters were stretched pre-pandemic.
“The government is not addressing the core issue here. The issue was never that renters were choosing not to pay rent, the core issue was that people’s incomes fell drastically across the board but also significantly for tenants. Just allowing tenants extra time to try and pay that rent back doesn’t address that problem, and it doesn’t address the problem that existed prior to COVID which is that B.C. is in the grips of a housing affordability crisis,” he says.
“A significant portion of renters were paying more than half of their income towards their rent. Now, expecting them to pay even more before we’re even into a significant economic recovery is going to lead to a lot of people losing their homes.”
He says the people he is most concerned about are those who are only hanging on to their places because eviction has been off the table, and his organization is advocating for those tenants debts to be forgiven.
“For those tenants, it would be massive because now they don’t have to worry about the spectre hanging over them of losing their homes because for a period of time the world shut down and they couldn’t make the money that they could before,” he explains.
There are also some landlords that Patterson says need to be given direct assistance.
“We think government should couple that support with also providing direct assistance to landlords who can demonstrate financial need as a direct result of not having rental income. So, landlords who haven’t been able to pay their mortgages because the tenant in the basement wasn’t able to pay rent during this emergency period, that’s a landlord who needs financial assistance now, and not over the next ten months.”
Patterson also worries the proposed plan fails to account for a potential second wave of the virus, which public health officials have warned about.
“If that happens, how are tenants who lose their homes supposed to self-isolate? How are they supposed to be effectively able to socially distance when they have to be moving, or when they lose their home and can not find another? I think it’s too early to be moving into this kind of phase, and I worry that government is not considering the full implications of the plan they’re putting forward.”
‘We’re not in the eviction business’
David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, says his group was also advocating for direct support to landlords and tenants.
“There’s enough of a cohort of renters who haven’t paid any rent, or only paid partial rent to generate a fair amount of unpaid rent out there,” he explains.
“We were trying to see if there was a path forward here in terms of having them cover that rent deficit. Obviously that would have some clearer advantage for renters and obviously would help our sector as well. That just wasn’t in the cards.”
The repayment plan is “not the perfect solution,” but Hutniak thinks it will be helpful to most renters and landlords.
“Every sector is experiencing some pain. I think that this is not an unreasonable accommodation,” he says.
He says landlords have been flexible thus far, and he predicts that will continue.
“Our members, they’ve worked really well and constructively with their tenants to try to find accommodation,” he says.
“Individual landlords may well consider extending [the repayment period], I think there’s going to be opportunity here to ensure that people keep their housing for the long terms. Certainly, we’re not in the eviction business, we’re looking to keep people housed.”
Annual rent increases remain frozen through the end of 2020, which Hutniak says will be challenging.
“We’re trying to get back into running our businesses. It’s part of the broader restart. Having those rents and the ability to try and seek additional increases under the [Residential Tenancy Act] guidelines are really important.”