Revelstoke renters face uncertainty as rent payment looms

The first of the month is coming quickly for Revelstoke renters who have been laid off by businesses closing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It felt like a very slow Sunday in downtown Revelstoke on March 18, when many businesses shut and others adapting to new practices, such as take-out only at restaurants. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

Life just got a lot more complicated for renters in Revelstoke. Rentals are already difficult to come by and now industries that employ much of the community have been crippled by mass closures resulting in layoffs. As a result, for many making rent on time for April, and likely many months to follow, is a new challenge and focus.

It’s causing tension. Without any directive or promise of assistance from the provincial or federal governments, at least one rental company in Revelstoke is sticking to business as usual when it comes to the due date for rent.

This morning, Revelstoke Property Services sent an email to their tenants advising them that the standard rental processes would still apply. The email went on to detail that rent would still be due on the first of the month and no exceptions would be made for unpaid or late rent.

The company added that if rent is not received by the third of the month, a 10-day notice for unpaid rent would be delivered and that if any tenant wishes to end their tenancy before the end date in their contract, they would forfeit their security deposit.

After hearing from a number of their tenants, Revelstoke Property Services sent out a follow-up email urging tenants who don’t believe they will be able to pay their rent on the first of the month to notify them.

“It was, unfortunately, not a very tactful initial email and we’re not looking to kick people out and we will work with people as best as we possibly can,” Revelstoke Property Services general manager Nico Leenders told the Mountaineer.

“We’ll have to treat everything on a case by case basis. We’ve had some people come to us and say ‘I’ve lost my job. I’m getting this first cheque. It’s coming on the 5th. You’ll see my rent on the 5th.’ We can work with that.”

Leenders also said that as a licensed property management brokerage, they adhere to the Residential Tenancy Act and can only operate within the guidelines set before them.

Jessica Duerks is a tenant at Rivers Edge Apartments, one of the properties managed by Revelstoke Property Services. Duerks was laid off from her job at Old School Eatery yesterday and she’s concerned that her family of four with two small children will struggle to get by. She was surprised by the email from the property management company.

“There’s been lots of talk [from government] about maybe pushing the rents back and it was just kind of abrupt that they would not wait maybe a day or two to see how the chips fall,” Duerks said.

Besides the shock today, Duerks says she’s had good experience with Revelstoke Property Services and that they’ve generally been reasonable.

“They’ve been really good since they’ve taken over,” she said. “As long as we communicate with them, they’re really amazing. I’ve on more than one occasion not been able to rent up front so it’s great that they are willing to work with us.”

As a one-income family living in subsidized housing, Duerks is holding out hope that help will come. She says that many of her neighbours in the building may struggle even more than her family.

“We’re all single-income families, most are elderly,” she said. “We’re in an okay position. We have children so we get a child tax credit, [but] I know there are people in this building who aren’t as lucky as we are.”

As of now, the province of B.C. has not announced any measures to help tenants or landlords financially. The federal government, though, has announced an $82 billion aid package that will include changes to rules on who qualifies for employment insurance and the addition of emergency benefits for those who don’t.

Layoffs are covered under the standard qualification guidelines for receiving regular EI benefits. You may also qualify for EI sickness benefits if you are unable to work due to sickness or quarantine. The one week waiting period that normally applies to sickness benefits is being waived for those told to self-isolate or quarantine.

It appears that a plan to help renters and landlords is in the works in B.C. Earlier today, B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson tweeted that they are “working overtime on ways to ensure people aren’t evicted because of COVID-19, provide relief to help make ends meet, [and] support those experiencing homelessness.”

But until these measures are actually put into place, many in our community will be left to hope employment insurance cheques come through before April 1.

Cara Smith
Cara Smith is a freelance writer from Fredericton, New Brunswick. After studying English literature at St. Thomas University, Cara began writing for the Telegraph-Journal, the provincial daily newspaper in New Brunswick, then worked as a staff writer for Huddle, an online business news magazine. She's now in Revelstoke, focusing on feature stories and has a keen interest in arts and culture.