Calls grow for further measures to relieve rent and mortgage pressure

The Victoria Tenant Action Group and Landlord B.C. are each calling for more government support as the COVID-19 crisis hammers many renters and property owners.

When April 1 rent was due, job losses in the hundreds of thousands across the country hit both renters and landlords.

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David Hutniak, chief executive of Landlord B.C., said Monday that it is too early to know how many renters did or did not pay rent. Landlord B.C. represents 3,300 landlords with about 125,000 units.

“Furthermore, from what we seen, it varies by building and landlord. We expect April will be a challenging month, and that going forward, the challenge will likely be much greater.”

Ben Baird, a member of the tenant group’s steering committee, said that in many cases, “rent is either not being paid or it’s being paid at the expense of other basic survival needs like food and medication.”

That group is recommending an immediate rent amnesty that wipes out debt for rent owed since April 1. It also wants to see a full cancellation of rent and mortgage payments until the pandemic is over, and a new system of landlord licensing established through B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch.

In response to the pandemic, B.C. has moved to provide landlords with $500 per month supplements to cover rent for those who can’t pay. It has also banned evictions in most cases and isn’t allowing rent increases.

The tenant group carried out a survey in recent days with responses from about 60 renters within Greater Victoria. Of those, close to one-third did not pay full rent or paid only a portion, with each group saying that they were short on money to buy food and other necessities.

Of those who did pay rent in full, 18 per cent said they were left without enough funds for necessities, Baird said.

Tenants are worried about unpaid rent debt accumulating during the crisis, Baird said.

They are also concerned about being forced to take “unsafe” jobs during in a time when citizens are being told to stay home, he said.

A number of renters told the survey their landlords are threatening to evict them unless rent is paid and that landlords are trying to set up repayment contracts, Baird said.

Hutniak said: “From the outset we advocated for robust renter supports. We continue to do so.” The province’s renter supplement is a positive move but “regrettably inadequate,” he said.

If renters cannot pay, “landlords are left in an untenable position with absolutely no support from the province or the federal government, to mitigate these losses. Larger rental housing providers are facing similar financial uncertainty.”

Senior governments must deliver more support to this sector, Hutniak said “so that the pitting of tenants against landlords is not allowed to fester.”

His organization understands that renters are facing challenges. “This is after all a health crisis,” he said.

Landlord B.C. is open to collaborating with tenant advocates to lobby government to bring in more programs for renters and for the rental housing sector, he said. “We are all in this together.”

About 30 per cent of B.C. households are rental, and most landlords are mom-and-pop operations, he said. “Most of these folks have regular jobs and secondary suites, which are critical to maintaining their own housing.”

“Banks have not been responsive to these folks in terms of mortgage deferrals because the loss of rental income makes them largely ineligible for these deferrals. Furthermore, these mortgage deferrals come with fees and interest costs that are not recoverable.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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