British Columbia has banned almost all evictions from March 30, 2020 during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Now, these reasons to evict tenants are no longer valid:
- non-payment of rent;
- cause (repeated breach of rental agreement);
- end of employment (e.g., caretaker);
- landlord’s own use of the property; and
- tenant no longer qualifying for tenancy (e.g., subsidized rental unit).
Limited exceptions allow landlords to still apply to end tenancies, where the tenant has:
- significantly interfered with landlord’s or other occupant’s use of the property;
- seriously jeopardized health or safety of the landlord or other occupant; or
- caused extraordinary damage to the property.
These exceptions will be pretty rare.
Tenants remain able to end their tenancies as before.
The government also halted rent increases, expanded landlords’ abilities to restrict access to common areas on the rental property, and restricted landlords’ rights to enter the rental unit.
In effect, the government has imposed on landlords an obligation to subsidize tenants, at least temporarily. It has offered some help to tenants which can generate cash that will go to landlords (see financial support and below).
The government’s rationale for this eviction ban was that many tenants had been hurt economically by the pandemic, and evictions would increase the risk to society’s health and safety.
BC’s ban on evictions prevents landlords from seeking one of their most important forms of legal recourse for non-payment of rent. Evicting a tenant who can’t or won’t pay rent is often the only thing a landlord can do to earn revenue from its property.
Many tenants do now face financial constraints, and with low residential vacancy rates common in BC, mass evictions might well cause terrible problems.
Technically, the ban means that from March 30 until the state of emergency ends, landlords cannot serve a notice to end a residential tenancy (with limited exceptions as noted).
An invalid notice to end tenancy during this period will have no legal effect.
The province’s order doesn’t mean that tenants can stop paying rent.
Tenants who don’t pay rent might not be evicted while the ban is in effect, but past due amounts would continue to accrue, maybe with interest. Landlords can sue to collect. It’s unclear whether landlords will be able to evict for nonpayment during the ban after the ban expires— BC might prohibit that, too, although it hasn‘t addressed that issue yet.
What Can a Landlord Do?
If the tenant stops paying rent, the landlord’s best option starts with communication:
- Don’t be a jerk—this is an extraordinary time, and aggressive, unlawful behaviour against tenants in distress is more likely to hurt your interests than help them. This could also harm your long term relationship with the tenant.
- Find out why the tenant is not paying—is the tenant actually unable to pay?
- Ask the tenant to make at least a partial payment. Some is better than none.
- Consider granting credit (with interest) to the tenant—you’re in effect lending the tenant money anyway, so it can help to formalize that (and consider getting a security interest in the tenant’s assets for the de facto loan).
- Whatever arrangement you make with the tenant, put in in writing, make sure you both sign, and give a copy to the tenant.
- Remind the tenant that you have bills to pay too and need the rent to help with that.
- Help your tenant apply for government financial support.
If you have a good tenant, remember that it may cost you more (in time and missed future rent payments) to end this tenancy and find a new tenant with whom you have no existing positive relationship.
What Can a Tenant Do?
Similar to what was stated above, understanding and communication is key:
- Try to understand that the landlord likely has to pay expenses to maintain the property, and those expenses are probably financed by your rent payments. Without your rent payment, the landlord might not be able to pay property taxes, insurance, mortgage payments, and utilities. If these creditors demand payment from the landlord and the landlord doesn’t pay, that could be problematic for the tenant living at the property too.
- Determine what you’re able to pay and see if the landlord is willing to accept partial payments or late payments. Note that you will still owe any unpaid balance, and the landlord can still require you to pay that balance at a later date. See if the landlord will accept the unpaid balance to be paid in installments over a period of time.
- Consider applying for financial support, such as rent supplements, through government sources.
- If your landlord agrees to let you make partial payments or late payments, get the landlord’s agreement in writing (and have the landlord sign) so that all parties are clear as to what their expectations are.
Remember that it may cost more—in time, inconvenience, changing market rates, and missed future rent—for a landlord to find a new tenant in the new post-COVID-19 world. Work with your landlord to find a solution that works for everyone.
As the situation continues to evolve, we will see how the provincial government chooses to address the delicate balance of a landlord–tenant relationship against the backdrop of developing public health concerns.
If you have questions about commercial or residential landlord-tenant relations, please contact: