As result of the closure of numerous businesses, rising unemployment and the general impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, it is expected that a number of residential tenants will not be able to pay rent or will request some rent relief from landlords. In order to address this, on March 25, 2020, the Government of British Columbia outlined the following restrictions and relief measures for residential tenants and landlords in the province:
- There is now a moratorium on evictions with respect to residential tenancies. Any current notices to end a tenancy for the non-payment of rent, and any current orders of possession in favour of landlords from the Residential Tenancy Branch, are stayed. There are exceptions for extreme cases where there are safety concerns. Notably, a small number of court ordered evictions remain subject to variations of those orders by the courts.
- Evictions for cause are still possible, but a landlord may only evict a tenant for cause in extreme cases where there are safety concerns.
- Annual rent increases are prohibited for the remainder of this current state of emergency.
- A new rental subsidy of up to $500 per rental unit has been introduced. This subsidy will be paid over the next three months, and will be paid directly to landlords through BC Housing. These funds will not be available for April 1, 2020, and eligibility and the application process has not been described in detail as of the date of this post.
- Landlords will be able to restrict access to common areas in a shared building, like laundry rooms or games rooms, to help prevent gatherings that can spread the COVID-19 virus.
- Landlords will be prevented 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 undue damage to the unit.
- It is expected that the Residential Tenancy Branch will continue to be the forum to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants.
As of March 25, 2020, the Government of Alberta is considering putting measures in place with respect to residential tenancies, but no measures have been announced as of the time of this post.
Alongside the new government relief measures, it is also important for residential landlords to keep the following in mind:
- The Government of British Columbia has made it clear that tenants must still pay rent.
- Landlords should encourage tenants experiencing financial difficulties to apply for other relief programs now being offered by the provincial and federal government.
- In British Columbia, the common law remedy of distraint is not available to recover arrears arising out of a residential tenancy.
- If a residential tenant is not able to pay their full amount of rent, a landlord should keep track of the accruing arrears.
- Landlords should be proactive in speaking with tenants who are experiencing financial difficulty to work towards forms of rent relief, that could include lump sum or scheduled payments over time and as rent arrears continue to accrue. At this time, it is not clear how rent arrears will be treated or adjudicated by the Residential Tenancy Branch, once the state of emergency in British Columbia is lifted.
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