In his daily COVID-19 press conference from Queen’s Park, Premier Ford responded to a reporter’s question about rent with the following:
“If you can’t pay rent, and you’re just in an absolute crisis, then you don’t have to pay rent.”
At least, that’s the soundbite that will get the most attention. Ford’s full response, however, was:
“Well, what I’ve said, Travis, is that if you have a choice between paying rent or putting food on your table, you’re putting food on your table. And the government of Ontario will make sure no one gets evicted. We stand by that, and we’re going to make sure we take care of those people. On the other note, please, if you have a job do not, I repeat do not, take advantage of this. This is for the people that are most in need, that just cannot physically pay rent. But if you have a job then we expect you to pay rent. This is for the people that just can’t afford it. So please, you know, I heard there was a petition going around ‘just don’t pay rent’, that’s wrong. That’s hurting people across the board. We’re standing up for the tenants here, so please don’t take advantage of it. And if you can’t pay rent, and you’re just in an absolute crisis, then you don’t have to pay rent.”
The point here is simple: context matters.
At no point was Premier Ford encouraging anyone who could even remotely afford their rent to not pay it on April 1. At no point did he introduce legislation that would support either tenants or landlords wanting to avoid paying rent to do so. This is an important distinction at a time when more than 650,000 Canadians have signed an online petition to cancel rent and mortgage payments.
“I don’t know of any change in the law, tenants still need to pay their rent,” says residential tenancy lawyer Douglas H. Levitt. “Tenants that don’t pay their rent are going to be required to at some point. At the very least, someone will have to pay it.”
As Levitt points out, the Premier is simply doing his part during a crisis to assuage tenants throughout the province who have been affected by the economic fallout COVID-19 has brought with it, and Levitt takes no issue with that. But Ford “needs to clarify what he’s really saying.”
Something Toronto City Councillor Josh Matlow has already written to the province’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and asked for.
Last week, the province did officially suspend evictions and The Landlord and Tenant Board has been temporarily closed outside of emergencies. But, as Levitt points out, “These legal obligations exist and will continue to exist.”
The point is, if you can’t pay your rent on April 1, there will very likely be few short-term repercussions. But in the months to come as the world digs itself out of the COVID-19 mess, anyone who defers now will certainly be asked later – with everything from credit ratings to evictions to make sure of it.
If we’re going back to a world that in any way resembles the one we had before coronavirus, rent will always remain.
And it still remains now.