Renting and COVID-19 | What support is available in Canada?

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by Ratehub.ca April 7, 2020 / No Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught many of us off-guard, and left many Canadians without an income. This has left many Canadian renters in a tough position, with most rent payments due at the start of each month. While there have been some measures announced to support people paying off mortgages, renters have not had as much in the way of specific support.

This article contains general information about rental assistance across Canada, and is up to date as of the date of publication.

What support is available to renters during COVID-19?

In most provinces, there are no specific rental support payments available during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, governments and organizations like the CMHC have said rental support will come in the form of general income replacement, with several programs available at the federal and provincial level. Most provinces have frozen evictions, though this isn’t a perfect solution, as we’ve outlined below.

If you can’t afford an upcoming rent payment, the best thing you can do is to speak to your landlord about delaying it. Be honest and open about your situation – they may be able to help. Just remember, they could be in a similar situation to you – lots of homeowners have lost jobs and still need to pay their mortgages, especially on rental properties.

Federal government income support

As of the time of writing, the federal government has not announced any financial support specifically targeted at Canadian renters. The government has been criticised by some for introducing an option for homeowners to defer mortgage payments for up to six months, but not freezing rent.

However, the government has accounced several packages that aim to replace some lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the support packages that have been announced:

  • The Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) will provide $2,000 a month for workers whose income has been affected by COVID-19. The CERB has less restrictions on eligibility than other benefits.
  • The Emergency Care Benefit (ECB) will provide a bi-weekly payment of $900 for up to 15 weeks, for those that are eligible.
  • The Canada Child Benefit is being increased by $300 per child for 2019-2020.
  • Payments owed to the Canadian Revenue Agency can be deferred until August 31st with no penalty.
  • Those with student loan payments can receive a six-month interest free reprieve.

The federal government’s website has the latest information about these measures, and information on how to apply. Check your province’s website for information on provincial support.

Rent support vs. Mortgage Deferral

As of March 24th, the federal government and Canada’s big banks have announced payment deferral arrangements for some mortgage holders, but there’s no such arrangement for renters. However, there are structural differences between renting and paying a mortgage that restrict the way people can be supported through periods of economic hardship. 

To defer mortgage payments, lenders simply adjust a mortgage holder’s amortization schedule, so they don’t need to make payments for a period of time. This isn’t as generous as it seems, as the mortgage will still be due after the pandemic is over. In fact, the banks may end up making more money, as most of them will continue to charge interest over the deferral period.

For renters, any skipped payments will in theory, still need to be paid. While it might seem unfair that renters are forced to continue paying rent without any income, it’s also not fair that landlords aren’t paid the rent that will eventually be used to pay off their own mortgage. 

It’s also worth noting that many mortgage holders are only being offered payment deferrals on the homes in which they live (it varies by lender). That means your landlord could still be required to pay their mortgage on the home you rent off them, unless they own it outright.

Provincial rental support

Measures to specifically support renters are more likely to come from the provincial government. The upside of this is that local policy makers can (in theory) better target support. However, it creates a lot of variability between rental support policies across Canada.

We’ve included a list at the bottom of this article detailing what each province has announced. In general, there are two ways that provinces will be able to help renters during this pandemic:

1. Eviction freezes

As of April 7th, most provinces have put a freeze on evictions, though generally with some restrictions. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it can help renters in the short term. A freeze limits landlords ability to evict tenants for a period of time. That means you could stop paying rent, or pay less rent, without fear of being evicted. However, an eviction freeze doesn’t forgive rent payments, and you’ll need to pay whatever rent you missed at the end of the pandemic. It’s not always clear what your landlord will be able to do after the eviction freeze is over. At the very least, a freeze can prevent renters from ending up on the street.

We don’t recommend changing your rental payments until you’ve had a conversation with your landlord. They’re likely struggling as well, but they are the best placed people to assist you. An open and honest line of communication with your landlord is the best way to avoid conflict.

2. Rent Supplements

Some provinces have offered direct rent supplements, rather than (or in addition to) income replacement benefits. These rental supplements are generally being paid directly to landlords, reducing the amount of rent that tenants need to pay. In most cases, the rent supplements that have been offered during the COVID-19 pandemic have not been enough to cover an entire average rental payment.

Support for renters, by province

Here are the provinces that have made some sort of announcement about rental assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. These policies are changing rapidly, so consider this a starting point for your research. Check local media and your province’s website for up to date information.

Alberta

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: No evections for non-payment of rent or utilitites until May 1st
  • Rent Supplements: N/A
  • Other: No rent increases during state of emergency period, no late rent fees until June 30

British Columbia

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: Eviction ban exept for extreme cases
  • Rent Supplements: Up to $500 per month rebate, paid to landlords, and freeze on rent increases
  • Other: BC Emergency benefit (one-time $1,000 payment)

Manitoba

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: All eviction hearings postponed until at least May 31st
  • Rent Supplements: Rent increases suspended until May 31st
  • Other: N/A

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labrador

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: Ban on evictions for those who have lost income due to COVID-19
  • Rent Supplements: N/A
  • Other: N/A

Nova Scotia

Nortwest Territories

Nunavut

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: N/A
  • Rent Supplements: N/A
  • Other: N/A

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: All rental hearings suspended. PEI Housing Corporation properties have evictions suspended until the end of June.
  • Rent Supplements: Rental assistance benefit paid to landlords of up to $1,000 over a three-month period
  • Other: N/A

Quebec

Saskatchewan

Yukon

  • Income support: Federal CERB and wage sibsidies
  • Evictions: Ban on residential evictions for 90 days, for tenants that are self-isolating and unable to pay rent because of lost work
  • Rent Supplements: N/A
  • Other: Paid sick leave rebate pays employers (and self-employed people) for up to 10 days of sick leave

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