Alma Siciliano says there will be one less property on Ontario’s rental market once the pandemic is over.
After trying to negotiate rent payments with the tenants in the basement apartment of her Courtice, Ont. home, she said she has come to accept that she won’t be getting even part of the $1,200 rent payment for April or May. Her tenants, a couple with a young baby, have indicated they may move out. One was laid off and had trouble getting the money he was owed from work, Siciliano said.
If they don’t move out, she says she is not holding her breath on their June payment.
Siciliano does not want to identify the tenants for fear of creating more tension in their relationship, but HuffPost Canada has verified her story using text message transcripts.
WATCH: Ontario Premier Doug Ford tells tenants to put food above rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Story continues below.
Siciliano said she wants to be sympathetic, and knows that April was a tough month when many people got laid off or lost their income. She is also struggling to pay her mortgage and other bills. Her husband was laid off last year and is now retired, and they have gone into their line of credit to make ends meet.
“I will sell my home before I rent to anybody again, once this is over,” Siciliano told HuffPost. “It’s a nightmare.”
Siciliano, who works in security services at a hospital, has filed an N4 eviction notice, used to terminate a tenancy agreement when a tenant has not paid rent, and an N12 notice, for when a landlord, family member or purchaser needs the rental unit for personal use. Her daughter had planned to move into the basement unit in May. The N12 requires her to pay a full month’s rent to the tenants. She’s also now paying to get legal advice about the situation.
“I just don’t understand why the government is telling people, ‘You gotta keep a roof over your tenants’ heads’ but not helping,” Siciliano said.
The Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) has halted eviction hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as has its equivalent in most provinces. Landlords can file an eviction notice, but can’t progress further, except in cases where tenants pose a safety risk or have committed an illegal act.
Moving into the third month with social distancing guidelines, neither the province of Ontario, nor the federal government has introduced measures to provide financial support to residential renters or small landlords.
Ontario is “calling on the federal government to provide additional support for residential landlords and renters given the national magnitude and importance of the situation,” Rachel Widakdo, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, told HuffPost in an email.
Widakdo also said that Tribunals Ontario, which oversees the LTB, is developing a recovery strategy that will be ready for when non-urgent eviction hearings can resume.
After the Ontario government sent the feds a letter asking for support on residential rent relief, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said provinces are welcome to move forward with their own rent relief program.
“Any borrower, including small landlords facing financial difficulty should contact their lender — bank or mortgage professional — to learn what options are available, including with respect to deferrals and fees, to help them get through this challenging time,” a spokesperson for the federal office of the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development told HuffPost.
Few provinces have introduced measures to directly help renters. British Columbia introduced an up-to-$500 benefit paid directly to landlords if a renter has lost income because of the pandemic. Prince Edward Island is providing $1,000 per household to cover rent for a three-month period.
The federal government did, however, partner with provinces on the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance to provide forgivable loans to qualifying commercial property owners.
The major Canadian banks are also allowing people to defer mortgage payments for up to six months.
But deferrals are given on a case-by-case basis, and interest still accrues during that period. Although at least one bank is refunding the interest accumulated during the six months, others will add it to the interest repayment at a person’s next renewal, or at the end of the deferral period.
Some landlords have found they can’t get a deferral on a second or investment property, depending on their lender.
Although Siciliano plans to look into the mortgage deferral program, she said she worries she won’t be eligible since she has an income — and she also worries she won’t be able to pay the eventual higher instalment payments, because of the extra interest.
CIBC’s deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal estimated that 90 per cent of renters paid in May, and said he expects to see a similar number for June, a CIBC spokesperson told HuffPost via email.
Still, many small landlords are feeling helpless right now, said Diana Padierna, a community legal worker at the Landlord’s Self-Help Centre, a community legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario.
“They’re also in a dire situation, and they’re not able to cover all their expenses.”
The clinic defines a small-scale landlord as someone who rents out a unit in their own residence.
“A lot of landlords, if they receive government assistance, it may not be enough to cover all the bills, all the utility bills that they have to pay for, food and any other expenses,” Padierna said. “They’re also in a dire situation, and they’re not able to cover all their expenses.”
While most landlords are trying to be compassionate, “a lot of tenants are just not talking to them at all.”
Padierna said many small landlords have been cautious about deferring their mortgage because they don’t want to be on the hook for the extra interest charges.
The legal clinic is advising landlords to communicate with tenants and try to create a payment plan. If that doesn’t work, they say to then give legal notice of eviction, even though that’s as far as the process can be taken right now.
Small landlords are also encouraged to contact their provincial representative to voice their concerns, Padierna said.