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B.C. bans commercial landlords who forgo federal rent relief from evicting tenants

Landlords in B.C. who are eligible for emergency federal rent relief and choose not to apply will not be able to evict businesses that aren’t able to pay rent, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James announced Monday.

The emergency order restricts lease terminations, rent-repayment lawsuits, and repossession of goods and properties, and will stay in place until the end of June, when the federal relief program is currently set to end.

James said the order is meant to protect small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and to encourage landlords to apply for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), which aims to reduce rent owed by small business tenants by 75 per cent for April, May and June.

The federal government opened applications last week for the program, which provides non-repayable loans to commercial property rent owners to cover 50 per cent of the monthly cost. 

The loans are forgiven if the landlord cuts rents by at least 75 per cent for those three months and promises not to evict the tenant. The tenant must cover up to 25 per cent of the rent.

Small business tenants qualify for relief if: their revenue has declined by at least 70 per cent, they pay no more than $50,000 a month in rent and they generate no more than $20 million in gross revenue each year. 

James said she’s heard from businesses and MLAs around the province that there are landlords who haven’t applied for the relief, making the program unavailable to their qualified small-business tenants.

covid 19 tourism cruise ships gastown
A store in Vancouver’s Gastown announces a closeout sale on May 29, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“Small businesses are a large part of our economy here in British Columbia,” she said. “We need them to be able to restart and to be able to help us recover the economy.”

Some have called the relief program “wildly confusing,” arguing it puts too much risk onto the landlords who could be saddled with the loan should their tenants not be found eligible. 

James said there’s not much data yet on how many commercial landlords have applied. She noted some landlords have rent-deferral agreements with their tenants 

The province will consider extending the protection if the federal government pushes commercial rent relief past June.

Public input for 2021 budget

The announcement is the latest measure in the province’s $5-billion economic relief plan. 

The plan set aside $2.8 billion to immediately help people pay bills, including a one-time payment of $1,000 to people out of work, as well as to fund services such as health care.

James said Monday that more than 500,000 people in B.C. have applied for the $1,000 payment. 

The other $2.2 billion in the province’s plan was allocated as relief for businesses and their recovery after the pandemic.

Minimum wage in B.C. also jumped by 75 cents to $14.60 on Monday, which some small business owners say they can’t afford.

WATCH: Finance Minister Carole James says minimum wage increase is needed in B.C. 

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James says B.C. won’t delay the minimum wage increase because of the pandemic. 0:39

The province is now asking the public for input on its 2021 budget. It’s accepting written, audio and video submissions online until June 26.

Public hearings will be held starting Monday over video and teleconference.

“That will be a recovery budget,” James said. “It’s important to give the public an opportunity to say what their priorities are.”

The province will release its recommendations for the next provincial budget in August.

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