Posted March 30, 2020
HALIFAX, N.S. — Nova Scotia tenants and landlords alike are uncertain about how rent will be paid, and feeling like the government isn’t doing enough as April 1 fast approaches.
Canada’s big banks are offering mortgage deferrals of up to six months for homeowners who can’t pay their bills due to COVID-19.
But that protection does not extend to commercial mortgages, meaning it does not extend to landlords and their tenants.
“Right now without any measures in place, there’s a lot of uncertainty for both tenants and landlords and we don’t want either side to be in a position where they can’t pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads,” Sydnee Blum, Halifax spokesperson for ACORN, said in an interview Friday.
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a national organization advocating on behalf of low- and moderate-income Canadians.
Petition calls for rent freeze
Blum, on behalf of ACORN, launched an online petition for a rent freeze in Nova Scotia. It had collected nearly 9,000 signatures by noon on Friday. While the petition centres around a rent freeze, the signatories are also demanding a tighter, extended moratorium on evictions and that vacant hotel rooms be used to house the homeless population during the pandemic.
“We want a rent freeze for as long as there’s a freeze on mortgage payments,” Blum said.
“We’re really pushing for April because people aren’t able to pay their rent this month, let alone what the situation is going to look like a month or two from now.”
Recognizing the impact that would have on landlords, Blum is calling on the government to help them too.
“We think that a government-mandated rent freeze will allow the government to also provide property tax relief and expedited mortgage relief applications for landlords and people who only own one or two properties and use that to supplement their income,” she said.
Landlords concerned about paying the bills
Kevin Russell, executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, said with April 1 approaching, his members are concerned.
“Our members understand the situation everybody’s in,” Russell said in an interview on Friday.
“We want to work with our tenants. We want to ensure they enjoy long-term tenancies. We encourage them to communicate, and that’s most important at this time.”
Russell said he’s encouraging members to forego rent increases during the pandemic. That’s also one of the measures announced by the largest landlord in the region, Killam.
Killam Apartment REIT (real estate investment trust) owns more than 16,000 apartment units in nearly 200 buildings across the country. Most are in Atlantic Canada, and about 6,000 units are in Nova Scotia.
In a March 24 update to tenants, posted on its website, Killam wrote that it knows some tenants are “impacted by COVID-19 due to business closures, layoffs, requirements to self-isolate, or illness.”
To help those tenants, Killam is waiving the collection of rent increases scheduled for April 1 and suspending further rent increases.
“On a case-by-case basis, Killam will consider deferment of rent,” the update to tenants read.
Killam is better positioned than most to weather the storm: with a portfolio worth $3.3 billion, the trust’s net income was $284 million in 2019.
Smaller landlords will need help, and Russell said the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations has asked the federal government to provide an emergency fund and they’re hoping the federal government will encourage the banks to extend the same relief to residential property owners as they have to homeowners.
“We just need some clarity to move forward and we’re hoping that something will happen very soon to put the industry at ease,” he said.
That’s unlikely to happen by April 1, but federal money should start flowing to people affected by COVID-19 soon.
“We realize at some point in April, people impacted by COVID-19 will receive monies from the government, and we hope that they pay rent,” Russell said.
Article by Zane Woodford for The Guardian