Government ends temporary halt on residential evictions

Landlords can start applying to have tenants evicted for unpaid rent as of Aug. 4, according to an announcement from the provincial government on Monday.

That’s the date the government plans to end the temporary moratorium on residential evictions due to unpaid rent. Justice Minister and Saskatchewan Attorney General Don Morgan said economic conditions are improving across the province, and that means it’s time to start returning to normal.

“We’re aware that more and more people are going back to work all the time,” he told reporters on Monday. “We’re hopeful that it’s a sign the economy is coming back to life.”

Morgan stressed that the moratorium was always meant to be a rent deferral, and not a rent holiday. That means thousands of Saskatchewan renters could be on the hook for multiple months rent. Morgan expects tenants will be allowed to pay that amount in monthly installments, but said the final decision will be left to the Office of Residential Tenancies.

“My guess is they’ll want to sit down between the hearing officer and say, ‘okay, what’s normal? What’s good practice to do this?’” Morgan said. “(They’ll) maybe have some discussion with some of the landlords, and try and work their way through it so they get back into business without imposing undue hardship on tenants that may have bad circumstances.”

Morgan said they’re concerned about smaller Saskatchewan landlords who rely on renting their properties for their sole source of income. The Saskatchewan Landlord Association (SKLA), which represents more than 500 landlords across the province, estimates the pandemic has created more than $30-million in arrears since the start of April.

Morgan said he’s not sure how accurate that number is, but he’s still concerned many of them won’t be able to last much longer without being allowed to collect rent again.

“A person who’s retired and have got a duplex or something, and are living off that money, those are the ones who are being affected,” he said. “(Companies) like Boardwalk, they carry it. It’s the price of doing business.”

The SLA called for an end to the eviction moratorium last week. They issued a statement on Monday saying they were pleased with the government’s decision, and encouraged landlords and tenants to work together for a mutually agreeable solution.

Housing experts across the country have warned that there could be a sharp rise in homelessness as temporary policies like eviction protection come to an end. In Prince Albert, however, advocates say ending the moratorium won’t hurt low-income renters as long as other support programs like social assistance, unemployment insurance, or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) remain in place.

“There’s enough money around from CERB and other sources that people should be able to pay their rent,” River Bank Development Corp. general manager said Brian Howell, the general manager of not-for-profit housing provider River Bank Development Corp. “When the eviction stay was put in place, there really was a lot more COVID around, so nobody really wanted to see people moving too much for any reason. I think that’s more under control now too.”

River Bank operates roughly 90 affordable housing units around Prince Albert. Howell said they’ve had little problem collecting rent during the pandemic, but he realizes others haven’t been so fortunate.

“It’s life and death, especially for smaller landlords,” he said. “If you’re a larger landlord and have lots of units then some of the other units can carry the ones where you’re not getting payment, but for some smaller landlords, it puts them in a very difficult situation.”

The provincial NDP blasted the government’s decision to end the eviction ban. NDP justice critic Nicole Sarauer issued a statement saying the government has no plans in place to protect families who made personal and financial sacrifices during the pandemic.

“A spike in evictions as the economy re-opens and as parents prepare to send their kids back to school would be disruptive for the economy and for families,” the statement read. “The province needs to sit down with landlords and tenants and come back with a plan to ensure that we do not see families who have acted in good faith put out on the street.”

The residential eviction moratorium has been in place since March. The government followed with an eviction moratorium on commercial properties on June 5.

The eviction moratorium only covered renters who couldn’t afford to pay their rent. Tenants were still being evicted for violent behavior or destruction of property.

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