After the BC Government announced this past weekend that it was banning evictions for non-payment of rent in BC Housing facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, BC Premier John Horgan announced a ban on evictions right across the province.
This means that a landlord may not issue a new notice to end tenancy for any reason. However, “in exceptional cases where it may be needed to protect health and safety or to prevent undue damage to the property, landlords will be able to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for a hearing,” the province said.
$500 monthly supplement
In addition, a new rental supplement will help households by offering up to $500 a month towards their rent, for three months, building on federal and provincial financial supports already announced for British Columbians facing financial hardship.
The funds will support renters experiencing a loss of income by helping them pay their rent and will be paid directly to landlords on their behalf, to ensure landlords continue to receive rental income during the pandemic. The supplement will be available to renters who are facing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 crisis but do not qualify for existing rental assistance programs.
During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Horgan said that with lost jobs and lost wages as a result of COVID-19, “many tenants are worried they can’t make the rent. It’s a challenging time for landlords too,” he said. “Nobody should lose their home as a result of COVID-19.”
Horgan recognized that $500 on its own may not sound like a lot when it comes to covering rental rates in BC, “but when you put it beside a $2,000 payment from the federal government and $1,000 from the province, as well as the other initiatives that we’ve brought forward to reduce costs for people… I think we’re in a place where we can manage this going forward.”
Demonstration of lost income, “whether it be by a layoff notice, or some other demonstration that your financial circumstances have changed [due to COVID-19] is going to be sufficient to access the program,” he added.
Horgan also stressed that the funding is for those with a specific, direct need, right now. “If you can pay your rent, you should pay your rent,” he quipped.
As for how people can access the funding, Horgan said the province is currently putting together a “fairly simple application process through BC Housing, and we are basing all of this on the accelerated employment insurance program that the federal government announced last week and added to today.”
He noted that “scribbling something on the back of an envelope saying, ‘This has happened to me’ is not going to be appropriate, but there are forms being filled out at the federal level which will provide evidence to us that we can add to those programs going forward.”
And because the whole program is still “under development,” Horgan said he “can’t guarantee that this money will be in people’s pockets by April 1,” but that “we are going to get the resources into people’s hands as quickly as possible.”
Rent increase freeze
The province said it is also putting a freeze on rent increases, effective April 1, for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If your rent was supposed to increase April 1, it’s not going to now,”said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Other measures introduced include:
- Preventing landlords from accessing rental units without the consent of the tenant, except in cases where it is needed to protect health and safety or to prevent undue damage to the unit;
- Restricting methods that renters and landlords can use to serve notices to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19 (no personal service and allowing email);
- Allowing landlords to restrict the use of common areas by tenants or guests to protect against the transmission of COVID-19.
To further support renters and landlords, the Residential Tenancy Branch will implement several additional actions, including adjourning and rescheduling hearings in situations where people need additional time to prepare and extending timelines for filing applications for dispute resolution.
These latest steps are part of government’s the $5 billion COVID-19 Action Plan to provide income supports, tax relief and direct funding for people, businesses, and services.
“People are feeling a lot of fear and anxiety and they need to be able to depend on the comfort and stability of home right now,” said Robinson. “We’re helping renters pay rent and giving them the peace of mind that they have a stable home in these unprecedented times, and ensuring that landlords can count on some rental income right now to keep them afloat too.”