The Government of the Northwest Territories will not provide a temporary moratorium on commercial evictions despite a plea from the NWT Chamber of Commerce.
On May 1, the chamber sent a letter undersigned by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and several provincial chapters. In it, they asked for a temporary halt to commercial evictions as federal funding support — the Canada Emergency Rent Relief Assistance — is rolled out for small and medium-sized businesses that have lost revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The chamber has maintained that local landlords have no certainty that they are going to qualify for that program.
Renee Comeau, executive director of the chamber, broke the news of the Premier’s response in an email to members of the organization on Wednesday. She said Premier Caroline Cochrane told her that legislation to put a short-term hold on all evictions for small tenants is not going to happen because it would require legislative changes to the Commercial Tenancies Act.
Asked where those changes to the act would be needed, Comeau said she didn’t know. She stated that the premier also told her that “GNWT has faith that landlords will not be evicting tenants right now.”
“We are hopeful that businesses will not get evicted due to inability to pay,” Comeau wrote. “The reality is that a majority of landlords in the NWT are multinational REITs who have anchor tenants — the GNWT — in their buildings. Thus having a few spaces sit empty has zero effect on their bottom line, as proven with the vacancy that continues to sit in the Centre Square Mall. We are also well aware of the programs available to businesses. However, as indicated multiple times in our letters, small businesses are not in a position to incur further debt load.”
The NWT Chamber of Commerce, the Press Secretary and Premier’s office didn’t make copies of the Premier’s letter public as of Wednesday evening, nor was the Premier available for comment.
Comeau said in an interview on Wednesday that the response has left the chamber feeling “dismissed” and that the full affects of the Premier’s rejection might not be seen until after the Victoria Day long weekend.
“We want to keep the lines of communication open (with the Premier’s office) because this is such a major issue for the business community throughout the Northwest Territories,” Comeau said. “But it’s disappointing. We’re hoping that they’re going to reconsider…”
Comeau couldn’t say how many businesses might be impacted by the GNWT’s decision, but she noted that local landlords will also be affected.
“This is really going to negatively affect our local landlords, those who really want to not evict people and who can’t afford to evict people,” she said. “But they may be put into a position where they’re going to have to (evict) because they have their own operating costs that they have to cover. As small landlords who are not these multinational REITs, they’re not going to be able to hold back.”
As of May 13, Comeau said there were no commercial evictions in the NWT, but typically the fallout commences a little later in the month.
She explained that commercial landlords often tend to enter a lease agreement with a tenant that states that rent has to be paid by the fourth business day.
“If the rent is not paid on the fourth business day, the landlord will remind the tenant that they have until the 10th business day,” she said.
During that time, the landlord has the ability to change the locks or apply for eviction under the Commercial Tenancy Act.
“They then have to petition the NWT Supreme Court that they’re evicting the tenant, which just happens on the 10th business day because they already advised the tenant,” she said. “So I think we’re going to see the reality of this situation rear its head, either come Friday or Monday.”
Regional Relief and Recovery Fund
Comeau applauded the federal government’s announcement on May 13 that $962 million will be directed to small and medium-sized businesses throughout the country through a new CanNor fund called the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. Of that money, $34.3 million will go to the Northern territories.
The chamber still wants the program to be expanded to support sectors that “have fallen through the cracks,” Comeau added. These would include businesses that employ more than 20 people, home-based businesses and not-for-profits.