October 1, 2020

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Province must extend eviction moratorium

Opinion

Thousands of low-income renters in the private market impacted by COVID-19 could face eviction in just two weeks. 

Last week, the province of Manitoba issued a press release stating the moratorium on non-payment of rent during COVID-19 is ending Sept. 30. In the same press release, the province renewed other emergency measures but notably did not extend the eviction moratorium. 

In March, Manitoba introduced a moratorium suspending non-urgent evictions, the suspension of hearings for non-urgent orders of possession, late fees for non-payment of rent and freezing rent increases. All of these are repealed Oct. 1, at which time landlords can begin proceedings for evictions against tenants for non-payment of rent and other non-urgent issues.

They will also be able to begin charging late fees on rent that is not paid on time on that date or later. On top of this, they may begin implementing rent increases (up to 1.6 per cent on rent-regulated units) at a time when many renters are still struggling to keep their heads above water. 

An Angus Reid study found nine to 13 per cent of Canadian tenants were not able to pay their rent in April and May. Among Manitoba’s 60,629 renting households, between 5,456 and 7,882 tenants are in arrears and cannot or could not pay all or part of their rent during COVID-19. Unless the province acts now, these tenants are at risk of eviction, pushing low-income tenants into precarious housing situations, crowded housing or even homelessness.

Anecdotally, housing advocates in Manitoba are finding tenants already being evicted illegally in anticipation of the eviction ban being lifted. 

Manitoba is still in a state of COVID-19 emergency. Those at the lower end of the income scale have borne the brunt of the economic impacts: half of those making $16 or less lost their job or hours due to COVID-19 economic recession. A recent study found minimum wage workers in Manitoba cannot make ends meet on the poverty-level $11.65 / hour wage, which is compounded by a rise in precarious part-time work. The timing of the end of the non-payment of rent moratorium is a double-whammy for those whose CERB support is ending Sept. 30 as well. 

Low income tenants struggling to get by likely will not be able to repay back rent owed to landlords. Moreover, Manitoba has not set out any policy for a reasonable timeframe for the repayment of back rent. Some tenants may be hundreds or even thousands of dollars in arrears to their landlords as a result of the lost income during the pandemic.

Relying on landlords to come to reasonable terms with tenants for a repayment schedule risks setting up tenants for discriminatory evictions. By contrast, in British Columbia tenants are given at least six months for repaying any owed back rent. 

Manitoba is not the only province that has removed the moratorium on evictions. Ontario did so in August, and tenants are fighting back, blocking the city’s rental enforcement units from conducting evictions. 

Most jurisdictions in Canada, the U.K., the U.S. and Australia have implemented some sort of eviction moratorium. B.C., Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon have government rent subsidies to assist tenants who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19. Manitoba, however, has done nothing to help low-income tenants during the pandemic, and the situation is about to get worse unless something is done immediately.

Assisting low-income tenants now will save taxpayers money in the long run, because as evictions rise, so do other costs to the province, such as social assistance, health care and pressure on the already-overburdened homeless shelter system. This adds to the COVID-19 public-health crisis: families who are evicted risk COVID-19 if forced into homelessness or precarious housing. Not to mention the stress and anxiety faced by tenants.

The province should extend the eviction moratorium until it has a plan in place to deal with this problem fairly to ensure tenants do not lose housing and landlords can continue to provide housing. Back-rent owed due due to COVID-19 should be forgiven via provincial policy. 

By removing the eviction moratorium for non-payment of rent during COVID-19, the Manitoba government is making thousands of Manitoba tenants vulnerable to homelessness and bankruptcy. It's time for the province to work with tenant advocates to develop a proactive plan that builds housing security during this public-health crisis. 

Molly McCracken is the director of the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a steering committee member of Make Poverty History Manitoba.

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