Today the New Brunswick government is lifting the ban on tenant evictions. A Fredericton lawyer and tenant is speaking against lifting the ban and for better tenant rights in New Brunswick, topics that will be discussed at a panel on housing in the time of coronavirus co-hosted by the NB Media Co-op on June 17.
In an op-ed published by the Daily Gleaner on May 29, lawyer and Fredericton tenant Aditya Rao writes: “There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as we contemplate reopening our province. But for many tenants in New Brunswick, that light is looking more like an oncoming train.”
Rao points out that all provinces except Alberta continue to have an eviction moratorium in place, and that PEI, a province similar to ours in both population density and COVID-19 infection rates, has started a rent relief program to help subsidize rent for those who need it.
New Brunswick has had significant periods with no active reported cases, partially because New Brunswickers have been sheltering in place: something renters will no longer be able to do if they are evicted.
The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has been providing crucial support for Canadians, but Rao explains why the Higgs government should not simply expect New Brunswickers to rely on CERB support for rent payments, citing undocumented migrants and Canadians without social insurance numbers as groups that have fallen through the cracks of the CERB.
The Canadian Federation of Students has also been trying to bring to the attention of the federal government that international students studying in Canada should be eligible for the CERB as well as domestic students. Migrants who come to Canada on student visas are restricted from working more than 20 hours a week off-campus.
Those lucky enough to have support from their home countries can find that support reduced to up to half the original value depending on the exchange rate between the currency of their home country and the Canadian dollar. The differences in currency value between Canada and its allies have certainly been exacerbated by COVID-19, but paying the difference on their tuition in place of student loans or grants because of a recent change in exchange rates is a story many international students are familiar with.
Despite the province encouraging landlords to negotiate payment plans with tenants who are struggling, property owners such as Gorham Real Estate in Fredericton have made it clear in an email to its tenants at the start of the pandemic that they will continue to expect full payments on the usual schedule.
It is not practical to trust that for-profit entities will abide by “encouragement” to help New Brunswickers avoid the risk of increasing infections and, as Rao points out, to do so is to ignore the power imbalances that differentiate lease agreements from other forms of contracts.
Many people continue to be financially vulnerable despite the CERB. New Brunswick is already lacking bare-bones tenants’ rights legislation such as eviction protection programs, rent control, protection for tenants associations, or housing rights acknowledgements.
If the province goes forward with its plans to lift the moratorium on evictions, it will be taking a gamble on losing the progress we have already made in the fight against the coronavirus. Now is not the time to be lifting the moratorium on evictions. The pandemic is still happening, and some landlords have not been following the measures recommended by the government to arrange alternate payment plans. Indeed large landlords like Gorham have put their efforts into maintaining the legitimacy of their current payment schedules and made clear to their tenants that the pandemic will not be viewed as a valid excuse for not paying rent.
The health and safety of New Brunswickers is at risk if the province continues with its current schedule to lift the moratorium on evictions.
Naomi Gullison is a recent St. Thomas University graduate and a Fredericton tenant.