For two years, Louise has been on a waiting list for a rental unit in a 55+ building, and she finally gets to move in on March 28.

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This article was published 20/3/2020 (794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For two years, Louise has been on a waiting list for a rental unit in a 55+ building, and she finally gets to move in on March 28.

Or does she?

At the moment, she can’t be certain. The change the 61-year-old has been looking forward to for so long is anything but a sure thing at a time when most of the world is staying put. In a week’s time, will the moving company she hired still be driving? Will she be able to move in on time? Will she be able to move in at all?

"I hope to heck I will be moving, but in the mean time, this is all very, very stressful," said Louise, who asked that her surname not be used.

'I'm prepared for fires, I'm prepared for floods, I'm prepared for parties. I have not prepared for Canadian society breaking down'‐ Avrom Charach

She isn’t the only one stressed, and her situation, along with other renters’, could change at a moment’s notice.

Like many industries, the rental sector is currently manoeuvring through uncharted territory due to seismic social changes related to COVID-19. With mass layoffs and EI requests increasing on a daily basis, many tenants will find themselves scrounging even more than usual to pay their monthly rents, and property managers, who have fees of their own to cover — including maintenance, utilities, employee payments, and mortgages — will face uncertainty as well.

Federally and in other provinces, rent relief packages have been set up. Ontario has halted all eviction orders and enforcement. The mayor of Vancouver has called on the British Columbia government to ban evictions and implement help for renters. In Manitoba, the provincial government has yet to institute any such policy.

For the time being, that likely leaves both renters and landlords with more questions than answers, says Avrom Charach, the director of communications for the Professional Property Managers Association of Manitoba, as well as the vice-president of Kay Four Properties.

"It’s a circumstance that’s reasonably unprecedented, if not entirely unprecedented (for property managers,)" he said in a phone interview Friday. "I’m prepared for fires, I’m prepared for floods, I’m prepared for parties. I have not prepared for Canadian society breaking down."

Many property managers, Charach said, are already having conversations about the proper course of action. But he said that blanket policies, including those freezing all rents, could have far-reaching effects without proper relief being offered to the property managers as well. A freeze could also lead to people whose employment has been unaffected by COVID-19 to withhold payment, he added.

"Without government support, we can’t eat 20, 30, 40 per cent unpaid rent for long, or really at all," he said.

Already, the business has changed: Charach said the Residential Tenancies Board is encouraging residents who can do so to pay rent by means other than cash, unless that’s how they’ve normally paid. At Kay Four, the company is waiving fees normally associated with online payments to encourage as little interaction as possible.

Charach said the reality of the situation is that his company, and others, can’t close their doors, due to an obligation to their tenants. With the COVID-19 response shifting every day, that reality is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate.

"This is uncharted territory," said Ron Penner, the senior vice-president of operations and COO of Globe Property Management, which oversees 5,000 rental units in Winnipeg. "It’s a time where the decisions we’re making can vastly affect people."

One of those people is Louise, who was first told by Globe she’d have to sign and honour a three-month lease extension on her current unit in case she couldn’t move. She wanted to pay month-by-month, still planning to go to the 55+ residence, and was "dismayed" by the three-month offer. But by Friday, she and Globe came to a tentative agreement, she said.

"I’m very happy, during the course of the week they’ve softened their stance," she said.

It’s an example of both renters and property managers figuring things out in real time, Penner said. Every day, decisions like these will come up, and for now, it’s up to each company to determine action on a case-by-case basis, Charach said.

"Most of what’s going on right now is figuring out how to operate," he added.

At Globe, one change — which, a month ago, would be impossible to believe — is that in-person unit viewings are on hold; virtual showings are being favoured instead.

For now, Louise is planning on moving on the 28th. "But that could all change very quickly," she said.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.