March 26th, 2020 by FH&P Lawyers

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal and Provincial Governments are urging Canadians to stay home and practice social distancing. As a result, we have seen massive layoffs and many Canadians are struggling to pay their bills. With April 1st approaching, many Canadians are asking: What do I do if I can’t pay rent this month?

On March 25, 2020 the Provincial Government of British Columbia announced the following measures to help renters in British Columbia:

  • A temporary rent supplement of up to $500 per month, paid directly to landlords;
  • Halting all evictions, except in circumstances where one’s health and safety, or property damage are at issue;
  • Halting enforcement of current evictions, except in extreme cases where there are safety concerns;
  • Freezing annual rent increases during the state of emergency;
  • Preventing landlords from accessing rental units without the consent of the tenant, except in exceptional cases where it is needed to protect health and safety or to prevent property damage;
  • Restricting methods of service of notices in Residential Tenancy matters; and
  • Allowing landlords to restrict the use of common areas by tenants or guests to protect against the transmission of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, $500 for many Canadians will not be enough to cover rent and these funds will not be available until after April 1st. Premier John Horgan stated that the $500 that will be available for renters will coincide with the $2,000 per month the Federal Government will be providing to workers affected by COVID-19 pursuant to the new Emergency Response Act, and the $1,000 the Provincial Government will be making available. These funds will not be available until after April 1st.

So What?

As many Canadians, you may be wondering: how does this help me pay rent on April 1st? The simple answer is: it doesn’t. With a moratorium of evictions, non-payment of rent on April 1st, baring certain exceptions, your landlord will not be able to evict you during this crisis. However, this does not mean that you are free to not pay any rent to your landlord during this crisis.

Normally, the Residential Tenancy Branch is the authority that deals with evictions in British Columbia. Where a landlord seeks to evict a tenant, they must provide the tenant with notice.
There are 5 types of notices:

Type of Notice Tenant Must Submit Application for Dispute Resolution
10-day Notice to End Tenancy for Unpaid Rent or Utilities; Within 5 days of receiving the notice
One Month Notice to End Tenancy; Within 10 days of receiving the notice
Two Month Notice to End Tenancy Within 15 days of receiving the notice
Four Month Notice to End Tenancy; and Within 30 days of receiving the notice
12 Month Notice to End Tenancy. Within 15 days of receiving the notice

Normally, your landlord would have to serve this notice on you personally, via registered mail, attaching a copy to your door, leaving a copy in a mailbox or mail slot at the address where you live, or fax. This has now been changed to include service by email and removing the requirement for personal service. Once the notice is served, you, as the tenant, have the above timeframe dispute the evictions through the Residential Tenancy Branch dispute resolution portal.

Right now, absent issues of health, safety or potential damage to the property, a landlord cannot seek your eviction and pending evictions are put on hold.

Tenants: What do I do?

This depends on your financial situation. These are unprecedented times and you ought to work with your landlord and take advantage of the aid both the Federal and Provincial Governments will be making available. It is important to communicate this to your landlord and be candid about the situation. It is also important to understand where your landlord coming from. They may be depending on your rent to pay the mortgage and feed their family during this crisis. Focusing on these issues could lead to temporary agreements with your landlord that could include some of the following:

  • Deferred rent until government aid becomes available;
  • Reduced rent for the month;
  • Deferring part of the rent; and
  • Incremental payments throughout the month on a fixed basis.

These are just a few examples that may work for your situation, but it is important to be flexible during this crisis while also making sure your family has the essentials.

Landlords: What can I do?

The measures introduced by the Provincial Government not only help tenants but are also focused on helping landlords. The $500 supplement will be provided directly to you as the landlord rather than to the tenant.

As the landlord you are still able to engage the Residential Tenancy Branch where your safety or that of your tenants is at risk, or there is risk of damage to the property. The method for engaging the Residential Tenancy Board is the same as it was prior to the crisis. Provide your tenant with a notice of eviction and if they do not leave use the online dispute resolution service available through the Residential Tenancy Branch to seek an order of possession (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/apply-online).

An order of possession will allow you, after the review period has expired, to seek a Writ of Possession from the Supreme Court of British Columbia to enlist an authorized court bailiff to remove the tenant and their belongings from the property. On March 18, 2020, the Supreme Court of British Columbia suspended all regular court operations, except for urgent matters. The Court has deemed housing evictions, including interim stay orders of possession under the Residential Tenancy Act urgent matters. As such, as the landlord, you will be able to seek a Writ of Possession to enforce the Order of Possession you obtained from the Residential Tenancy Board during the COVID-19 crisis.

What you cannot do:

  • Physically remove a tenant;
  • Take a tenant’s personal property without a court order; and
  • Use a bailiff firm that doesn’t have a contract with the Ministry of Justice to evict the tenant.

We expect the COVID-19 crisis to end, while no one knows when that will be, normal operations under the Residential Tenancy Branch will at some point resume. As such, non-payment or rent after the crisis will again, baring government intervention, be a reason to evict your tenant. This is why both landlords and tenants must communicate throughout this crisis, taking advantage of government aid and plan for the long term. This may include any of the above-mentioned agreements that will allow both tenants and landlords to weather these unprecedented times.

Takeaways:

  • $500 per month from the Provincial Government to landlords directly;
  • Additional aid from both the Federal and Provincial Governments will be available;
  • No evictions, baring safety concerns;
  • Landlords and Tenants must communicate effectively; and
  • Be kind, flexible and stay safe.

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