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Atlantic Canadians call for rent freeze during COVID-19 pandemic

Calls for rent freeze as Nova Scotia residents make first payment during COVID-19 pandemic
Rent is due for many people on Wednesday, the first time since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. But with many laid off or out of work many say there is no way they’ll be able to keep paying rent. Alicia Draus has more

For many renters, the start of the month means rent is due and April 1 marked the first time rent has been due since COVID-19 was declared to be a pandemic and Canadians were told to stay home.

Sydnee Blum of Halifax, N.S., is among thousands of Nova Scotians out of work due to the pandemic.

READ MORE: Canadian unemployment could hit 15 per cent amid coronavirus pandemic, deficit to $113B

“I was a part-time worker, and now I’m unable to work because of the pandemic, I’m also a full-time student so I don’t qualify for EI,” said Blum.

“And it’s possibly going to be weeks until I see the [Canadian Emergency Response Benefit] benefit so there’s lots of uncertainty if I’m going to have the ability to pay rent next month, and moving into the summer.”
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Blum says it was already a challenge to pay for April, and it’s left her having to make some difficult choices.

“Am I going to use what little money I have in savings to put food on the table and pay for prescriptions or am I going to put that towards next month’s rent?”

She says she’s heard from many others in a similar situation and as a result has started a petition calling on the Nova Scotia government to implement a rent freeze.

Blum says while benefits being offered by the federal government are a good step, they don’t apply to everyone, and a rent freeze would be more effective at keeping everyone at a level playing field.

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“This is able to cover everyone’s unique situation,” she said.

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Most provinces, including both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, already have a policy in place to prevent landlords from evicting tenants who can’t afford rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In Nova Scotia, the policy is in effect for three months starting from March 19.

In New Brunswick, evictions are suspended until May 31st.

Evan Matthews lives in Sackville, N.B., and while he has been able to pay his rent so far he supports the idea of a rent freeze for those who can’t.

“So come June first if people cannot pay their rent up to June first, they’ll be expected to pay three months rent or be evicted into the height of the pandemic,” said Matthews.

“It just doesn’t make sense, it’s a short sighted policy.”

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Matthews says many citizens are listening to their provincial and federal governments and are staying home, which means many are unable to work.

That’s why he says the government should step in with a rent freeze.

But landlords don’t necessarily agree with the idea.

Kevin Russell with Nova Scotia’s Investment Property Owners Association says while landlords understand that tenants may be struggling during the pandemic, there is no help for them either.

“Landlords have their bills to pay, their staff to pay, the cleaners the maintenance people, we have you know our property managers and resident managers who are all on the payroll and have to get paid.”

Earlier this month it was announced that Canada’s big six banks will allow mortgage payment deferrals for up to six months as part of extraordinary measures to help customers struggling with the financial impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic. However deferrals are approved on a case-by-case basis so it may not be possible for all landlords to take advantage.

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READ MORE: COVID-19 financial questions: deferring payments, mortgages and investment opportunities

Russell says right now tenants should speak directly with their landlords to work out a solution agreeable to all parties, and work together to get through this rough patch.

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Blum argues that not all landlords are open to negotiating. She says has personally tried reaching out to hers but has received no response, and has spoken with others who have experienced mixed results,  which is why she’s calling for government intervention.

“We really need the provincial government to step in and act and protect everybody, regardless of their landlord situation,” said Blum.

Matthews notes that the federal government has already suspended rent payments for some, including airport authorities which pays rent directly to Ottawa, and he said it’s important they do something similar to help individual Canadian renters as well.

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“I think just expanding the rent suspension to cover the entire population for the duration of this crisis while all normal economic activity is suspended or hampered is the long term solution,” said Matthews.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.