CFIB urges quick rollout of rent relief

51 per cent of surveyed Sask. businesses won't be able to afford their May rent.

Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president, Western Canada and Agri-Business, Canadian Federation of Independent Business -- submitted photo.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is hoping that recently-announced rent support from the federal government is easy for small businesses to access and includes rent forgiveness — not just loans and deferrals.

On April 16 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced it intends to introduce commercial rent assistance to provide loans, including forgivable loans, to commercial property owners who will, in turn, lower or forgot he rent of small businesses for April, May and June.

The measure involves working with provinces and territories, which are responsible for property owner-tenant relationships.

According to a press release issued Monday, over half of small businesses in Saskatchewan surveyed estimate that they won’t be able to pay their May rent without additional support.

Ninety per cent surveyed strongly support plans to help with rent. The CFIB wrote hat rent relief is “urgently” needed because only one in five businesses is fully open and revenue declines are dramatic.

The results are based on 6,881 responses from CFIB members to a controlled-access web survey conducted between April 17 and 19. A probability sample with the same number of respondents would have a margin of error for national results of plus or minus 1.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

“Last week the federal government announced a new rent program, I know many business owners are anxiously waiting for the details as the stress of having bills mount with no revenue is getting more intense,” said Laura Jones, CFIB’s executive vice-president. “This would be an important complement to Saskatchewan’s Small Business Emergency Payment, which started accepting applications on April 13th.”

 The survey also found that 87 per cent think provincial governments should provide protection to commercial tenants to prevent evictions during the pandemic, 88 per cent agree that rent assistance needs to consist of grants or rent forgiveness and not loans and deferral and 58 per cent tryst their landlord to be reasonable.

“Across Canada, deferring rent isn’t going to cut it, businesses desperately need rent forgiveness to help pay bills. Provincial governments have ordered many small businesses to close, and while Saskatchewan’s one-time grant is a step in the right direction, we know many owners are still paying more for rent on a location they cannot open,” Jones said.

 “CFIB continues to call on provinces to protect commercial tenants, otherwise in good standing, from being evicted due to COVID-19,” added Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB vice-president, Western Canada and Agri-business. “It is important to get enough government relief in place fast to prevent May 1 from being a nightmare.”

When reached by phone, Braun-Pollon said the stress of mounting bills without revenue is “getting more tense.”

She also called on the rent relief to be “simple, flexible and fast” because there are less than two weeks before rent payments come due on May 1.

“We need to look at the details of the program to ensure it will help business owners sith their rent costs,” she said.

“The full details aren’t known yet, but the federal measure has been outlined. Time is of the essence.”

She also explained the importance of rent forgiveness, versus deferrals and loans.

“A lot of businesses worry that deferring rent and other costs will simp.y delay an eventual bankruptcy as bills become due when they’re reopening but income remains low.”

She added that she hopes the federal and provincial government works with landlords to implement the relief. Landlords said they weren’t consulted when the province announced a suspension of evictions for the duration of the pandemic.

Earlier this month Saskatchewan announced that businesses ordered to close by public health would be eligible to receive a one-time grant based on 15 per cent of their monthly revenue, up to $5,000.

Braun-Pollon said, though, that Saskatchewan’s work to help small businesses is exemplary.

“Very few provinces have offered additional financial support,” she said.

“We’ve encouraged other provinces to follow Saskatchewan’s model by making its grant widely available to impacted businesses, especially those in the retail and hospitality sectors.”