New regulations shared online by NWT MLAs will make it easier for renters to stay in their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, even if they can’t pay their rent.
Documents shared by two MLAs show that tenants may now use a new process to demonstrate they cannot pay. If that process is followed, a landlord cannot evict them for non-payment of rent.
MLAs Lesa Semmler and Kevin O’Reilly said they had been told by Caroline Wawzonek, the territory’s justice minister, that regulations related to the Residential Tenancies Act had been amended to accommodate the change.
The new process will help if you rent your home and the pandemic has caused you to lose your job or left you with significantly reduced income.
If that is the case, you can now provide a written notice to your landlord explaining why you can’t pay your rent and outlining the steps you are taking to find the money to do so.
Once you send that written notice to your landlord, they can no longer evict you for non-payment of rent. You also can’t be evicted, once that notice is provided, if the landlord is selling the home during the pandemic; if the landlord needs to move back in to their own property; or if the landlord is planning extensive renovations.
You can still be evicted for other reasons, like continued disturbance of neighbours or damage to the property.
The NWT government says any time your circumstances change or some information in your written notice changes, you must tell your landlord to make sure they are kept updated.
If a landlord doesn’t believe the information provided in a written notice, they can ask a tenant for evidence to back it up. If they are still unsure, the landlord can apply to the rental officer for a verdict.
Landlords and tenants can still mutually agree to end a tenancy, and tenants can still terminate a tenancy if concerned about family violence.
“You will need to pay your rent as soon as you are able to,” the NWT government says in a document shared by the two MLAs. While the changes let you defer your rent, you will still owe the full sum eventually.
“It is important that tenants make plans for paying the rental arrears after the emergency is over,” the document continues.
Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, told the CBC she was not sure if many tenants would be able to make up the difference after the pandemic.
“I don’t see how it’s feasible for people to come out of this crisis with thousands of dollars worth of debt,” Green told the broadcaster.
“You’ve got people acquiring debt without really knowing how they’re going to pay it.”
‘No assistance’ for small landlords
Documents posted online by O’Reilly and Semmler show Commissioner Margaret Thom signed the changes into law on April 9.
However, neither MLA professed themselves fully satisfied with the amended regulations.
“While this is helpful, there is still no financial assistance for tenants or small landlords,” said O’Reilly, the MLA for Frame Lake.
He is seeking support both for tenants and for landlords who aren’t corporate giants but who may own a small number of buildings, or simply share their home with someone else, and are no longer being paid rent as expected.
The NWT government has previously acknowledged the problems faced by small landlords but has yet to outline what actions it may take to help.
Last week, NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane told Cabin Radio various measures were being considered.
At the time of writing, the amended regulations had yet to be formally posted online by the territorial government. However, it is understood tenants are now able to take advantage of the legislation by drafting a written notice to their landlord, which begins the process of deferring rent.