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P.E.I. Greens call for moratorium on evictions with layoffs on the rise due to coronavirus

Some tenants fear the possibility of eviction after facing a sudden loss of income due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic.
Some tenants fear the possibility of eviction after facing a sudden loss of income due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. - Stu Neatby

 


CORNWALL, P.E.I. — Sara Brehaut’s biggest worry right now is making rent.

Brehaut lives with her boyfriend, Calum Smith, in an eight-unit apartment building in Cornwall. She has been off work for almost three years due to mental health issues and receives a monthly federal supplement. The two were able to manage until her boyfriend was laid off from his job as a forklift operator more than a week ago due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain). The two have attempted to access various provincial and federal support programs in the last week, but cheques from these programs will be weeks away.

Most of Brehaut’s neighbours have similar stories.

“A lot of the people I've talked to, their biggest worry is, how do we put food on the table if we have to pay our rent?" Brehaut said.

Calum Smith and Sara Brehaut, with their dogs Solo and Connor, are among the many Islanders who have been impacted by an unexpected layoff this month. Their rent is due April 1st. - Martin Dawn Jarvis Photography
Calum Smith and Sara Brehaut, with their dogs Solo and Connor, are among the many Islanders who have been impacted by an unexpected layoff this month. Their rent is due April 1st. - Martin Dawn Jarvis Photography

Brehaut said she has reached out to her landlord, who lives off-Island, to ask for a discount or delay in paying rent.

“She said, ‘Sorry, these times are hard for me as well,’” Brehaut said. 

Stories like Brehaut’s have prompted P.E.I.'s official Opposition to call for a moratorium of all evictions related to non-payment of rent.

Green MLA Hannah Bell said Friday she had received 10 calls from constituents worried about paying their rent in the last 24 hours. She said many tenants worry about being evicted next month, which starts Wedensday.

"People are afraid that that could happen. It's an unnecessary fear in a time where people are so incredibly stressed," Bell said.

"People feel like they're falling apart."

Moratoriums on evictions, in differing forms, have been implemented in Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia since the start of the pandemic. B.C. recently announced a rental allowance of $500 that would be paid directly to landlords to keep tenants from being behind on rent.

The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) has delayed all eviction-related hearings until Monday, April 6, meaning no new eviction orders will be enforced before then. But no direction on eviction proceedings has come from the Progressive Conservative government. It is unclear whether evictions related to non-payment of rent will proceed after April 6.

On March 17, Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson announced a six-week stoppage of evictions for tenants living in publicly owned housing, but most Island tenants live in privately owned apartments. The province has been providing 1,150 tenants with a rent supplement as of February, but on Friday, Hudson said there has been no significant increase to these supplements since the beginning of March.


The Green Opposition set out three methods the provincial government could use to enact an eviction moratorium. They are:

  • The province could temporarily order landlords not to evict tenants under the Emergency Measures Act, if a state of emergency was declared (P.E.I. is currently in the middle of a Public Health Emergency). 
  • IRAC could also continue to suspend hearings on evictions-related matters, but the commission operates independently from cabinet. 
  • The province’s tenancy legislation, the Rental of Residential Property Act, could be amended to ban evictions during a public health emergency.

Income relief programs from both the federal and provincial governments could keep most tenants afloat in the medium term but most will not be issuing payments for several weeks. By that point, Bell said, many tenants could already be behind on rent.

“They need to be making a clear statement on this now. We've run out of time," Bell said of cabinet.

Ricardo Tranjan, a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the current economic crisis is most immediate for renters. His report, entitled The Rent is Due Soon, found that, based on the most recent data, 69 per cent of P.E.I. renters lack a month’s worth of savings. This is the highest proportion of any province.

Tranjan said an eviction moratorium is a necessary, immediate step for working Canadians. But he also noted provinces should begin a conversation about rent deferrals and rent forgiveness for tenants.

“The grown-up conversation is going to be about rent forgiveness and how we will support folks who are just unable, through no fault of their own, to get that paycheque which they need to pay the rent," Tranjan said.

Tranjan said provincial and federal authorities will need to increase rent subsidies and allow some landlords to access business aid packages. He added larger landlords should be expected to absorb losses.

Tim Banks, CEO of APM, owns several rental properties in P.E.I. He said the practice with his properties is to approach tenants with difficulty making rent on a case-by-case basis. He believes most landlords will do the same in the midst of the current pandemic. 

He does not believe there will be a rise in evictions in April.

"I personally don't see what the major issue is. I can't imagine any landlords trying to evict people. It would be kind of crazy," Banks said.

"If the Greens need to grandstand and fear-monger people, then they should be tossed out."


A landlord can evict a tenant for:

  • Not paying your rent.
  • Breaking a condition of a rental agreement.
  • Landlord’s personal use or renovations of a unit.
  • Changing a unit to non-residential or for demolition.

Source – P.E.I. Tenant Support Centre*

*A tenant may ask a landlord to delay or defer rent. A sample request letter can be found at rentingpei.ca


Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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