Victoria the ‘poster child’ for renter-landlord uncertainty

April 1 came and went without much in the way of clarity for renters and landlords in B.C., many of whom remain unsure how to proceed with payments in the coming weeks.

Uncertainty has led to speculation on both sides. Many renters believe they are not legally required to pay rent, now that the provincial government has put a moratorium on evictions, while some landlords believe non-paying renters, who cannot be evicted, will be legally required to make good on their missed payments when the current crisis subsides.

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A rental housing advocacy group based in Victoria says neither view is entirely accurate.

“The whole rental housing ecosystem has huge implications,” said David Hutniak, chief executive officer of LandlordBC. “It’s not just about renters and landlords. This is about a whole sector that is just imploding.”

Nowhere is that more evident than in Victoria, where 70 per cent of rental housing is from secondary suites. Hutniak calls Victoria “the poster child” for a dire scenario that could reach critical levels if it goes on for months.

“Across the province, landlords are disproportionately represented by mom and pops — the smaller landlords,” he said. “Victoria is the epicentre for that. These are people who have basement suites, and who have regular jobs. Many of them are now either ill or unemployed. So in addition to having the financial responsibilities for their mortgage, they’ve lost that rent revenue which was critical for them to maintain that housing.”

A temporary rental supplement of $500 for landlords was implemented by the provincial government on March 25,to halt sudden evictions due to non-payment. It will continue to be in effect on a monthly basis for the duration of the provincial state of emergency, which some have suggested could last at least three more months.

The funding is meant to make up for a drop in rental income for landlords, but so far, there is no word on when the $500 would be available.

The website for B.C. Housing — which will administer the funds — suggests the supplement application will be available online in early April.

In a statement sent to the Times Colonist, Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert, who chairs the province’s rental housing task force, offered reassurance to renters, saying they would not be evicted if they could not pay their rent.

“At the same time, renters who are able to should continue to pay their rent, as housing providers rely on the rent payments to pay for utilities, their mortgage and other bills related to the rental property.”

Some provinces have adopted rent-deferral agreements as a means of handling long-term rent-relief requests, but that has not yet been adopted in B.C. Hutniak believes they could become necessary to sustain the economy.

A solution might arrive in a few days, but for those who struggled to pay their bills on April 1 — be they landlords or tenants — every second of uncertainty means more drastic measures will be needed to recover.

“This is a huge, huge mess for everybody,” Hutniak said. “We’ve got to try and get through this together.”

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