For many Ontarians, rent is due on Wednesday, but with so many people out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic, actually paying seems impossible.
In Toronto, 47 per cent of all residents are renters, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $2,240. That means a lot of people are on the hook to pay rent on Wednesday with little to no means to do it.
What happens if I can’t afford rent?
Premier Doug Ford has reiterated several times in the past week: “No one should be kicked out of their home or rental apartments based on not being able to pay their rent.”
Evictions have been halted in Ontario as the Landlord and Tenant Board has suspended all hearings for the duration of the outbreak.
However, Ford has been quick to say anyone who is able to pay their rent should, adding “this doesn’t give a free pass to people.”
But that still leaves renters and landlords without answers about what to do when it comes to paying and collecting rent on April 1.
The province’s website is unclear on how to handle this, saying only: “We encourage landlords and tenants to work together during this difficult time to establish fair arrangements to keep tenants in their homes.”
One Toronto real estate agent said it’s all about proper communication between landlord and tenant.
“I think [landlords] should just give [tenants] a phone call and kind of ask them where they’re standing, if they still have their job, and be proactive about it, and not wait for the day rent is due and call them and say ‘Hey guys, where’s the rent?'” said Sunny Singh of iPro Realty Ltd.
Toronto renter Paddy Gallagher said rent should be frozen for everyone and that assessing whether someone should pay on a case-by-case basis doesn’t make sense when most people are being asked to stay home.
“[The government] is throwing us to the wolves by taking away our income and yet not taking away our expenses,” Gallagher told CBC News.
‘My biggest fear is to be evicted’
Toronto musician Sam Bielanski was supposed to go on a tour this spring. But now, all her gigs are cancelled and any odd jobs or freelance work she does isn’t available either.
“All my extra money goes into my musical projects, so there’s no emergency fund,” she told CBC News.
Bielanski negotiated with her landlord by offering to pay half her rent for April and the other half when she gets money through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, for which applications only open in early April.
But she said she was hoping he would be a little more understanding.
“When I texted my landlord to let him know about our situation the first thing he said to me was: ‘How much can you pay?’ He didn’t express any sympathy. He didn’t even ask about our health,” Bielanski said.
In the end, her landlord said he would try to get his mortgage deferred but wasn’t confident it would happen. He told Bielanski to pay as soon as she can.
Bielanski said she admired people who were rising up and refusing to pay their rent, like one country-wide petition to freeze rents that has upwards of 740,000 signatures and is backed by several tenants’ organizations and ACORN Canada, a charitable organization that advocates for families with low-to-moderate-incomes.
But that’s not an option for her, Bielanski said.
“The thought of souring my relationship with my landlord is terrifying … Truly my biggest fear is to be evicted, which I know can’t happen right now but it could happen in the future.”
What assistance are governments providing for renters?
If you’re hoping the government will help you out, it’s important to know what each level is offering what and how that could help you.
The City of Toronto has already offered homeowners 60 days to pay property taxes and other bills, so if you live in someone’s home you can ask if they will consider extending those benefits to you.
The province, however, has the most control over rent. But it’s unclear if its relief plans will help.
If you’re out of work, the federal government has made changes to Employment Insurance.
What assistance are landlords getting?
Although landlords have been offered a mortgage deferral of up to six months through their bank, real estate agent Singh warns renters against thinking that means landlords don’t have to pay.
“That’s mortgage deferral, not mortgage forgiveness,” he explained.
“A lot of tenants are getting confused and saying, ‘Hey, you know what, the landlord doesn’t have to pay his mortgage.’ That is not entirely true — the landlord still has to pay some sort of interest to the bank when all this is done,” Singh said.
In fact, the deferral is a loan that will end up costing the landlord more money in the end.