Residential tenancies have been one of many difficult areas to navigate since the state of emergency was declared in response to COVID-19. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canada’s economy has left many people without jobs or with reduced income and who are now struggling to pay rent. At the same time, landlords remain responsible for paying mortgages, operating costs and maintenance & repair of their properties. The government has been working on an equitable solution to ensure tenants stay in their homes, while landlords continue to collect rent.
The Landlord and Tenant Board (the “Board”) is an adjudicative tribunal that resolves disputes between residential tenants and landlords under the Residential Tenancies Act (the “RTA”). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the Board made a number of changes to its operations, including suspension of limitation periods, eviction orders and eviction hearings. Until further notice, the Board is not hearing eviction applications or issuing eviction orders unless there is an urgent matter that involves health or safety issues or serious illegal acts.
While eviction orders and hearings remain suspended, the queue will continue to grow with landlords’ applications for tenant evictions relating to non-payment of rent.
On July 21, 2020, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act received Royal Assent. This new Act amends key sections of the RTA. The objective of these changes is to keep tenants housed while also ensuring landlords receive rent. Among other things, the Act introduces changes to achieve the following:
- Prevent unlawful evictions;
- Compensate tenants subject to “no fault” evictions (the scope of existing provisions will be widened);
- Increase the maximum fine amounts for offences under the RTA by individuals (now $50,000) and corporations (now $250,000);
- Increase compensation paid to tenants when found to have been evicted in “bad faith”;
- Streamline the Board process by allowing access to other alternative dispute resolution services, such as arbitration;
- Shift certain unresolved disputes (such as unpaid utility bills) from Small Claims Court to the Board; and
- Encourage negotiation of rent repayment agreements prior to the Board granting evictions
One of the changes arising directly from the COVID-19 pandemic is to section 83 of the RTA. When a landlord applies to the Board for an eviction order for non-payment of rent arising during the period beginning on March 17, 2020 and ending on the prescribed date, the Board will consider whether the landlord has first attempted to negotiate are payment agreement with the tenant. Therefore, if a tenant is unable to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the landlord must first present an opportunity for repayment before seeking an eviction order from the Board.
It is important to be familiar with the amendments to the RTA as key rights and obligations will be affected by these changes. If your residential tenancy has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic our team at Cunningham Swan is available to assist with any questions you may have.