Support for renters cannot come soon enough, laid-off Manitoban says amid COVID-19 pandemic

By | March 24, 2020

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister vows to support renters struggling to make ends meet while the COVID-19 pandemic derails their finances.

“We’ll have more to say on this and on several other issues in the not-too-distant future,” Pallister said during a news conference Monday.

The province should be there to help people cover their ongoing expenses, he said. 

“Cash flow issues are very real,” Pallister acknowledged. “We are looking at a variety of mechanisms in partnership with lending institutions, banks, credit unions, Caisse popularies and so on.”

Any relief cannot come soon enough for Nathan Elander.

New to Winnipeg, the 25-year-old has temporarily been laid off from his job as a flight attendant.

He doesn’t know when he’ll return to the skies, nor whether he and his partner — recently laid off as an administrative assistant — can pay for the roof over their heads without an income.

‘Still, no sympathy’

Elander said he offered his landlord a compromise to stay in his one-bedroom apartment downtown. Maybe the couple could defer rent payments, or pay only a portion of their rent.

“We discussed all those options and still, no sympathy,” he said.

Elander wants the government needs to step up. He said renters should be afforded the same offer as homeowners, who can defer their mortgage payments for up to six months. 

“It should most definitely fall on the governments because it’s not fair that the landlords are not paying their mortgage payments for the building, but they’re still making money off the renters,” he said. 

Nathan Elander, left, and Jonathan Duhaime have both been laid off from their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were working as a flight attendant and administrative assistant, respectively. (Submitted by Nathan Elander)

Elander said he was encouraged by the Premier’s words on Monday, but worries the province won’t go far enough.

He said Manitoba has been slow to act. Several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have taken measures to prevent any evictions.

“It’s hard to say but as of right now I don’t see us getting to that level just because … other provinces are taking it more seriously than what Manitoba is right now.”

The need is significant, according to a new national report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which found 40 per cent of Manitoba rental households in 2016 didn’t have enough savings to last a month.

The Opposition New Democrats are asking the government to ensure renters can defer payment on their monthly rent, along with monthly electricity and vehicle insurance bills, if they choose.

The party is asking that renters aren’t penalized with interest for the six months they can defer payments.

“No family should be kicked out of their home because they can’t make rent right now, or for any other reason,” NDP MLA Lisa Naylor said in a statement.

The party also wants landlords to have the resources to regularly disinfect residences and suspend any non-urgent maintenance work in apartment buildings.

Avrom Charach, spokesperson for the Professional Property Managers Association of Manitoba, says landlords aren’t trying to make a buck off renters struggling to make their monthly payment during the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes the provincial government can devise a plan that assists both landlords and tenants. (Radio-Canada)

Landlords are trying to make payments themselves, said Avrom Charach, spokesperson for the Professional Property Managers Association of Manitoba.

Of the tenants his company oversees, 10 to 35 per cent have asked for help to cover their rent, he said.

Not about getting rich: Charach

“A large institutional landlord may have a big rainy-day fund, but most landlords are needing the rent every month to pay the mortgages, the utility bills, the repairs,” Charach said. “One or two months of this kind of interruption could cause severe problems and maybe even bankruptcy for some landlords.”

His association is planning to approach the provincial government with a plan that helps property managers and their tenants, he said.

“This is not about us trying to fill our pockets with money,” Charach said. “This is about us trying to keep our businesses running and helping the people who live with us.”

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