VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With a moratorium on renter evictions set to end next week, thousands of British Columbians could soon be forced into homelessness, according to a housing activist.
Murray Martin, a member of ACORN BC who advocates for renters’ rights, said he’s “really upset” the B.C. government is allowing evictions to resume and forcing tenants to pay rent they couldn’t afford during the pandemic.
As of Sept. 1, landlords will once again be able to issue eviction notices for unpaid rent and create payment plans for renters to pay back arrears. The province is also ending a temporary rent supplement that gave $300 to $500 a month to nearly 85,000 people as of July 9, according to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Martin said he doesn’t understand why these measures meant to help renters during the COVID-19 pandemic are being changed while the virus is still raging and many people remain out of work.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The vast majority of renters in B.C. have continued to pay their full rent since March, but 12 per cent have been making partial payments, according to a government press release. With more than 600,000 rental households in B.C., that could mean nearly 75,000 households owe their landlord money.
“It’s not like this mass surge just came spontaneously,” Martin said of the missed payments. “There were circumstances that were beyond the vast majority of renters’ control that created this circumstance, and a lot of it was because of the lockdown that shut down businesses.”
Landlords cannot end a tenancy for missed payment between March 18 and Aug. 17. Instead, they can give tenants a repayment plan with monthly payments between Sept. 1 and July 10, 2021.
Martin said these payment plans will effectively act as a rent increase for thousands of low-income families, some of whom will be forced to skip meals to avoid eviction.
The activist said he wants to see those missed payments forgiven and both the eviction moratorium and rental supplement program extended past September.
Housing ministry spokesperson Marielle Tounsi said the repayments plans can include smaller payments in their early months and deadlines that stretch past next summer – but landlords don’t have to offer plans with those features.
“We expect landlords to take advantage of that and offer as much flexibility as possible to tenants right now. Many of them came to arrangements with tenants during the pandemic, and it’s still in a landlord’s best interest to keep a good tenant,” she said.
Tounsi said tenants losing the rental supplement introduced during the pandemic may qualify for existing housing benefits offered by BC Housing.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, so too will government’s response to it. We will continue to monitor the impacts from COVID-19 and we will do what it takes to support people in B.C. as we get through this together,” she said.
The CEO of Landlord B.C., David Hutniak, said he, too, wanted to see the rental subsidy extended. But he welcomed the other changes.
“Overall, we are pleased that our sector is basically reopening as of Sept. 1,” he said. “We feel the province has struck a reasonable balance here.”
Hutniak pressured Premier John Horgan and Housing Minister Selina Robinson to repeal the eviction moratorium in June, including for unpaid rent.
On Monday, Hutniak said despite regaining the power to do so, he doesn’t expect many landlords to start issuing eviction notices.
“The prediction of a tsunami of evictions is just not going to happen,” he said.
He said landlords want to keep their units full in the midst of a softening market, with prices dropping and vacancies rising.
“Landlords are not in the eviction business, we’re in the business of providing long-term rental housing,” Hutniak said.
Asked what advice he would give to landlords whose tenants continue to come up short on payments in the coming months, he said, “I’m optimistic the landlords and tenants are going to continue to work together to ensure that the tenants retain their housing.”