'It shouldn't be up to tenants': Ottawa business calls for rent help

An Ottawa business is calling on either the provincial or federal government to do something about rents for small businesses and their employees who have been laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supply and Demand on Wellington Street W., has been open for seven years, but on March 15 the restaurant made the decision to close because of concerns for the safety of their staff. That's left the restaurant's co-owners feeling uneasy for the future. 

"Really nervous, for our staff and nervous for our business. My husband and I, obviously, are co-owners. So that is our only income coming into our home," said Jen Wall.

"Also, just the uncertainty of it all. I think when we first closed we were assuming this would be a two to three-week closure. Since then, it's definitely become more evident that it will likely be longer than that."

The couple said they have not spoken to their landlord about next month's rent, but said many of their friends who are in similar positions have not had positive interactions with their landlords. 

"Landlords are just saying 'pay April first and let's just talk about May when May's a problem.' But that's not good enough," she said. 

Kinley Wall

The problem is a small business needs to keep enough cash to be able to restock and reopen. The Walls had to lay off 19 employees, and also worry how they will now pay their rent. 

Wall believes it shouldn't be up to commercial and residential tenants to approach their landlords about concerns with paying rent. "This is something that needs to be dealt with either at the federal or provincial level," she said.

Her partner, Steve Wall, agrees.

"It keeps putting entrepreneurs — whether you're a landlord, whether you're a small business owner — in these moral dilemmas about how you can approach this," he said.

"But really, we need to remove that [dilemma], have it mandated, have our officials come in and be a bit more vocal about this kind of thing to put everyone's mind at ease." he said.

Landlords want guidance

Last week, the Ontario government announced there wouldn't be any new eviction notices issued, so renters will not lose their homes because of COVID-19.  

But the Ontario Landlords Association — which represents small landlords — says that wasn't the right move. 

"They're not helping us and not really helping the tenants either, because when this all settles there might be a lot of eviction notices going out," said William Blake, who speaks for the association. 

David Donnelly/CBC

"We understand and sympathize with tenants but the government is not sympathizing with us…we have a lot of small mom-and-pop landlords going 'I need the rent. If I don't get the rent, I'm going to [face] real difficulties'."

CBC News reached out to the province for comment Sunday but did not get a response.

The association has sent several suggestions to the Ford government to fix the problem.

One is to expand a rent bank that runs in Toronto, to cover the whole province. Another is to make social housing available to those who can't make their rent payments.

Wall also said the six-month mortgage deferral announced by the big banks won't help many landlords. 

"What we're finding out is a lot of lenders will not defer if it's not your principal residence. So investment properties for a lot of people cannot be deferred. And even your principal residence, there's very, very complicated ways to actually get deferred."