COVID-19 brought a lot of governmental financial support from the federal and provincial governments. Most of it was helpful but opaque in the extreme. I got almost daily mass emails from my accountant clarifying the government’s current position about who qualified for what. Tenants and landlords especially were forgiven for being quite confused by the government directions. The Provincial government told tenants that if they had to chose between food and paying the rent, that they should choose food and forego paying rent. Tenants have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and this announcement, at the time, brought relief. The provincial government also placed a moratorium on evicting tenants. This made sense, in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t also want a larger homeless problem. However, besides temporarily halting evictions, the government offered no guidance to either tenants or landlords about how to handle a situation where a tenant couldn’t pay rent. They also offered no financial relief to landlords whose tenants couldn’t pay rent. Financial relief that would have helped both the tenant and the landlord. In theory, landlords could apply for a mortgage deferral but the banks were in charge of those deferrals and a lot of them were rejecting investment properties favouring only deferrals on single-family homes.
Now many Ontario tenants are facing the harsh reality that if they can’t pay back their rent that is in arrears, they could face a swift eviction. The provincial government is trying to pass Bill 184, which will allow landlords and tenants to bypass the Landlord Tenant Board and create a re-payment plan of their own making. If a tenant misses even one payment on their previously-agreed upon repayment plan, the landlord can evict them without applying for an eviction notice through the Landlord Tenant Board. Critics of this bill say that landlords could bully their tenants into agreeing to an unrealistic re-payment plan only to face eviction. Allowing landlords to work around the Landlord Tenant Board essentially takes away a tenant’s right to representation. Although this Bill was first introduced right before COVID hit Ontario, the timing couldn’t be worse. At this time when tenants are feeling significant financial hardship and the rental market is going down, the government should offer support to landlords in order to continue to house tenants. It should not be fast-tracking the evictions of tenants that the government previously, and cavalierly, advised to “just not pay” the rent.
- Robyn VanderVennen
The Kim Kehoe Team