The government of Alberta is implementing additional supports for small and medium-sized commercial tenants who have been affected by COVID-19.
“Over the past few months, our province has been grappling with the greatest threat to public health in a century, the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the Minister of Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism Tanya Fir.
“While our first priority is protecting the health of Albertans, we cannot ignore that our economic downturn is also having a real impact on the health and wellbeing of Albertans,” she said.
Adding, “Alberta industries and businesses have been hit hard across all sectors of the economy. Even as we move through the phases of the relaunch, many business owners are still wondering whether they are in a position to reopen and if they will be able to recover.”
To ensure Alberta businesses can recover, the government of Alberta has been working to provide relief to kickstart the economy.
As many businesses are facing challenges such as lower revenue, liquidity restraints, and obtaining additional debt, the government of Alberta has implemented additional supports for businesses including tax and utility payment deferral programs.
Alberta has also joined other provinces, and the federal government in the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program, to ensure small businesses can pay rent, and relieve some of the financial stress businesses are facing.
“With the supports, we have announced over the last several months, Alberta has one of the most generous support models for small businesses in Canada, but we know that more supports are needed,” Fir said.
Over the past few weeks, Fir and colleagues have had discussions with small and medium-sized business owners about the challenges they are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been hearing a consistent message. Alberta businesses are telling us that the federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program is not enough,” Fir said.
“Landlords are finding the program difficult to navigate, and many commercial tenants have told us that their landlords don’t plan to apply. We’re hearing that some landlords and tenants are struggling to work together to develop an alternative payment plan,” she said.
As a result of what business owners said, Fir is proposing to table Bill 23, the Commercial Tenancies Protection Act.
“The proposed legislation will safeguard businesses as Alberta deals with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by protecting eligible commercial tenants from having their leases terminated due to nonpayment of rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, prevent landlords from raising rent, and charging late fees and penalties on missed rent,” Fir said.
If passed, the legislation would cover the period from March 17, when the Public Health Emergency came into effect, until Oct. 31.
The legislation would protect three core groups, including commercial tenants who would be eligible for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program, but whose landlords have chosen not to participate, commercial tenants who have had to close their business due to public health orders, and commercial tenants who have had their business revenue decline by 25 per cent or more as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If passed, any late fees, penalties or rent increases imposed by the landlord between March 17 and Oct. 31 would need to be reimbursed,” Fir said.
“While the legislation would prevent future evictions, the legislation would not undo any evictions or lease terminations that have already happened,” she said.
Under the act, landlords and tenants are required to work together to develop a rent payment plan for any missed payments.
Landlords will also retain the right to evict tenants, should a tenant break the terms of the lease that is not covered by the act.
“The successful relaunch and recovery of Alberta businesses is in the best interest of all Albertans. They are the backbone of our economy, the create the jobs that Alberta communities and families depend on,” Fir said.
“We’re listening to Alberta’s business community, and we’re responding to their needs by developing the supports Alberta businesses need to help give them peace of mind and boost Alberta’s economy as we move through recovery,” she said.
Fir expects business owners and landlords will work together in a respectful and fair manner through the duration of the provincial relaunch strategy.
“We continue to ask landlords to be flexible and understanding of their tenants’ financial circumstances. This isn’t an easy time for anyone, but by working together we will get through these tough times,” Fir said.
“I’m confident the business community will rise up to support one another. This legislation is one of our made in Alberta solutions that expands on the available federal programs and ensures that our province’s businesses can return to prosperity,” she said.