CFIB calls for changes in commercial rent assistance program

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is warning that anxiety for many small businesses remains high as they head into a third month of severely reduced revenues and no rent relief the organization said in a release Monday.

While the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program opened on Monday, May 25 many continue to report it won’t help them either because their landlord won’t apply or they do not meet the revenue loss criteria of 70 per cent.

“Fixing CECRA and putting in place a safety net for tenants whose landlord won’t use it is critical right now. Even with more businesses opening up, many are still struggling and losing money,” Marilyn Braun-Pollon CFIB’s vice-president Western Canada and agri-business said.

“That is why CFIB joined with the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, the Retail Council of Canada, Restaurants Canada and the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and sent an open letter to Premier Moe calling on the province to implement temporary commercial eviction protection for tenants (who were in good standing with their landlords prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) during this unprecedented time.”

Adding to these challenges they said that CFIB has received hundreds of calls and comments from both tenants and landlords frustrated with the CECRA application process. Comments range from confusion over the amount of financial information required to apply, complex attestation forms and technical difficulties with the application portal.

One landlord reported spending four hours on hold with CMHC trying to verify their login information. While others are finding the requirement to attest to 70 per cent revenue losses for April, May and June challenging given that June revenues are still uncertain.

“It’s June 1 and rent relief is a mess that needs a major clean-up,” Laura Jones, CFIB’s executive vice-president said.

“Workable rent relief is make or break for over half of the small businesses we surveyed and governments need to make this a top priority yesterday.”

CFIB is calling on governments to do three things immediately to address the rent crisis;

One is to allow tenants to access their share of CECRA support directly through the program or find another means to get money to those that need it. For example, they could expand the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans to at least $60,000 (from $40,000) with an increase to the forgivable portion from 25 per cent to 50 per cent (from $10,000 to $30,000). It should also be a priority to ensure that announced expansions to CEBA are implemented immediately as some business owners have been waiting three months to be included in the program (e.g. those with contract workers, personal bank accounts and those that pay by dividends).

They also call to fix CECRA by simplifying the application process, expanding the number of months it covers, and reducing the 70 per cent revenue loss criteria.

As well they call to put in place a temporary moratorium on commercial evictions for tenants otherwise in good standing with landlords which the CFIB has been calling on provinces to do this since March.