As COVID-19 variants continue to spread at an alarming rate throughout the country, residential landlords find themselves in a perpetual state of uncertainty as they attempt to keep up with changing regulations. With B.C. having recently entered a three-week lockdown, and Ontario embarking on a month-long “emergency brake shutdown” effective April 3rd, measures to reduce case counts in both provinces include closing patios and indoor dining, and further limiting capacities in grocery stores. Meanwhile in Quebec, a 10-day lockdown affecting Quebec City, Lévis, and Gatineau will require that all schools and non-essential businesses in those hard-hit jurisdictions remain closed until April 12th.
So what does this all mean for the provinces’ residential landlords?
“Most residential landlords, property managers and tenants know by now about the importance of compliance with constantly changing COVID-related protocols in high density, multi-res environments,” said Joe Hoffer of Cohen Highley LLP. “The only constant for landlords is uncertainty about levels of compliance and whether the next localized outbreak will strike in their building.”
In other words, keeping informed of new protocols, prioritizing cleaning, ensuring occupants are adhering to physical distancing measures and maintaining regular communication have become the central focus of daily operations.
In B.C, David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC, says current lockdown measures haven’t changed much for the sector given it has become accustomed to this extended new normal. Landlords are simply “keeping their heads down” while remaining vigilant about infection control and cost management. Ultimately tenant health and safety remains the number one concern.
“Vacancies are up a bit and rents have tempered at the higher end of the market, but by and large rental housing providers continue to navigate these interesting times as they anticipate less tenuous ones,” he said. “Folks still need homes, and those who provide quality housing and are focused on maintaining a mutually beneficially relationship with tenants, are doing fine.”
Landlord and Tenant Board
In Ontario, one of the biggest hurdles for landlords throughout the pandemic has been trying to navigate the Landlord and Tenant Board process. In a recent statement, the LTB said it will continue to hold hearings for all types of applications and issue orders, including orders for evictions. Hearings will be conducted by videoconference, phone or in writing to protect the health and safety of Ontarians.
“We continue to encourage landlords and tenants to work together to resolve their disputes during this challenging time,” the statement said. “The LTB is carefully monitoring the situation and operational changes, if any, will be posted to our website.”
In September 2020, the Ontario government passed legislation to freeze rent at 2020 levels, meaning that for the vast majority of renters, there would be no rent increases throughout the upcoming year despite mounting financial obligations for landlords. The LTB does stress that “tenants who can pay their rent must do so to the best of their abilities.” It also asserts that landlords are entitled to collect compensation from a tenant for each day that an eviction order is not enforced; however, tenants who are asked to self-isolate or who can’t work and therefore pay rent should be treated with lenience via special arrangements agreed to by both parties.
Rent declining in GTA
For residential landlords in harder hit urban neighbourhoods, rents have been declining steadily throughout the pandemic. The average asking monthly rent in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) declined for the 15th month straight, down 16.3 per cent from a year ago according to the latest data from Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research. Canada’s largest city has felt the sting of the pandemic more than others due to the significant job loss suffered by the tourism, travel, hotel, arts, culture and hospitality industries.
In an open letter addressed to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, released April 1st, the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses asked Freeland to extend the federal wage and rent subsidies beyond the current deadline of June 5, citing that 60 per cent of the 1,700 businesses that responded to the survey said they would go bankrupt without continued access to federal support programs.
This, of course, all trickles down to impact residential landlords faced with tenants unable to make rent. But as the challenges continue to pile up, the sector continues to persevere.
“With the announcement of a province-wide emergency brake, we are all reminded that the pandemic continues to be front and centre in our daily lives,” said Tony Irwin, CEO of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO). “As we have done since Premier Ford first declared a state of emergency on March 17, 2020, rental housing providers will continue to work with their residents to get through this difficult time together. Our front-line staff are working tirelessly to help control the spread and create safe environments for residents, and we encourage residents to reach out to their property manager with any questions or concerns.”