Province to provide rent subsidies, suspend evictions amid COVID-19 pandemic

"We can't guarantee it will be in (people's) pockets by April 1", said Premier John Horgan.

"You have a relationship with your landlord, let's all hope that they're good relationships and you're going to have to find a way to work this out together", Horgan said.

As people adjust to life under the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking for ways to maintain a sense of normalcy while observing the physical distancing required to ward off the virus. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson confirmed that the funds are meant to help low- and middle-income renters who have seen a "significant reduction" in income directly related to the spread of COVID-19, be it through reduced hours or layoffs. "Our government is taking steps to help take some of the pressure off renters and landlords and protect people's health", said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The only catch is that the $500 would be paid directly to the landlord on the renter's behalf.

The province is planning for the worst, the premier said, with the rental supplement covering all of the roughly 500,000 renters in B.C. and will go towards renters experiencing a loss of income.

"We don't want people to think that they may lose that home as a result of the pandemic", Horgan said at a news conference.

The additional rental assistance program will be delivered through BC Housing.

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The province is also ordering a suspension of evictions, including those in progress already - and putting a full freeze on rental increases - until the crisis has passed.

He said the suspension on current and future evictions will stay in place during the province's state of emergency order.

Why it matters: The announcement Wednesday follows the province's $5 billion COVID-19 action plan, which committed to provide support to renters during an unprecedented and economically challenging time. The Rental Tenancy Branch will remain open to resolve any disputes that may arise between renters and landlords.

He also said that this program is for people who are in "genuine distress" and that the "fewer people who access the program, the more opportunity we have to expand it moving forward". Renters will also be able to prevent landlords from entering their units except in exceptional cases.

The smaller number of court-ordered evictions are up to the courts, which operate independently of government, she added.

The province is further restricting methods that renters and landlords can use to serve notices, allowing emails but not personal service, to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19.

It is also giving landlords the ability to restrict access to common areas in buildings, allowing measures like reducing the numbers of people allowed in laundry rooms or closing games rooms, and to bar visitors.

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