‘Thought they were working with me’: Edmonton tenant facing eviction despite pleas for COVID-19 relief

A file shot of Whitehall Square apartments in downtown Edmonton. Boardwalk Rentals

An Edmonton man is questioning why his rental company wouldn’t work with him after he lost most of his income due to COVID-19, but is instead making moves to evict him amid a second deadly wave of the virus.

Maher, who Global News is identifying only by first name, says he has lived at Boardwalk’s Whitehall Square apartment building for several years with no issues. However, when COVID-19 hit in the spring and he lost his job, he began to struggle to make ends meet. So he connected with the company to discuss rent relief.

“I told them, since April, flat out, ‘Hey guys, I lost all my jobs, I’m self-employed, I’ve lost almost all my income,'” Maher said. “I told them flat out how much money I can afford, how much I can pay, when I can pay it.

“With the communication I had, from what I understood, that was a decent enough payment plan. I thought they were working with me in terms of being able to defer a couple of hundred dollars every month.”

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Documents shared with Global News shows that Maher and Boardwalk communicated regularly between April and November, including a questionnaire in April that asked for his employment situation, government records of income, and an estimate of what he could afford to pay —  what Maher believed was a new rental payment plan. He says since then he’s been paying between $850 and $900 per month compared to his usual rent of $1,159.

“I thought we were doing the right thing,” Maher said. “If I had to re-apply every single month for some sort of rent deferral, why didn’t they tell me that?”

Phone calls that Maher recorded between himself and Boardwalk representatives in October that he shared with Global News seem to imply the company is willing to work with him — in one call, the company representative told him Boardwalk has been allowing renters affected by COVID-19 to pay balances off at a slower pace while regaining employment.

There’s also discussions in the call of creating a new, reduced lease for Maher to help him pay back the amount owed.

However, despite those discussions, the situation came to a head this month when Maher was officially given an eviction order following a Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution hearing. He also has to pay back all the money that he deferred over this year — $4,019.35.

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Maher said he believes the entire situation comes down to miscommunication between himself and the company.

“I was supposed to have filled out that application including an updated record of employment every month,” Maher said. “And the fact that I messaged them almost every two weeks… to me, I thought that was me making good on the commitment plan. To them, it was just me paying a random amount when I felt like it.”

Gagan Singh Bal, a community director for Boardwalk, said Tuesday that the company has worked with roughly 500 residents since the pandemic began to create payment plans. He said currently there are only about 50 of those plans still ongoing.

“Our goal, especially with the current market and the sensitivity of the current pandemic, is really to be as forthright and proactive as much as we can with every situation,” Singh Bal said.

He added that while he cannot speak on specific cases like Maher’s, he believes with most situations that go to court “it would likely be more to do with a lack of communication.”

“I can’t comment on the individual case, but without going into specifics… it’s typically, a misunderstanding or something not being communicated correctly.”

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Singh Bal told Global News that the company would be reaching out to Maher to further discuss the situation.

“The goal for us is to create something that works,” he said.

Alberta’s COVID-19 protections for renters no longer in effect

While the province was in the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, it announced a series of measures that were meant to protect Alberta renters that included an eviction ban, freeze on rent increases, and restrictions on late fees. There was also a measure from the government in that announcement that said landlords must attempt to work out payment plans with tenants if they can’t pay.

However, Service Alberta told Global News the payment plan piece of the measures expired in mid-August.

“It’s not to say that people couldn’t still enter into one,” said Tricia Velthuizen, the press secretary for the ministry, on Tuesday.

“Overall applications to end a rent agreement are down 20 per cent. So we have seen landlords and renters working together on this.”

Numbers released by the government show that applications to end an agreement for non-payment of rent through the Residental Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service are down significantly — there were 4,287 applications between March and October 2020, compared to 5,351 through the same period in 2019.

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Maher said said that he was under the impression, even leading up to his eviction, that the company was working with his financial situation.

“Why did Boardwalk take all that information that I provided… and choose to evict me instead?”

Singh Bal said that Boardwalk moving forward with court hearings around evictions is “uncommon,” especially amid COVID-19.

“There’s no real precedence, precedence doesn’t really come into play,” Singh Bal said. “It’s not about it being black and white. A lot of these situations fall into that grey area. That’s why, as sensitive as they are, they’re very unique in their own ways.”

Maher said said he had been planning to move to Ontario in the spring and this situation will push him to do it earlier than that — amid the second wave of the pandemic.

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He said at this point, while he will have to move, he’s still hopeful that Boardwalk management could decide to waive the $4,000 in deferrals that he owes.

“It comes down to broken communication between Boardwalk and me. I don’t think that Boardwalk is really handling the impact of the COVID-19 financial impact with its resident when they should be.”

The conditional eviction order for the case says Maher must leave by Jan. 31, 2021. He must also make a series of payments between $500 and $1,400 on various dates through the month of December and January and will be forced to leave within four days if he misses those.

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