Small businesses call on governments for rent relief

Small businesses call on governments for rent relief
WatchLast week, the provincial government announced subsidies to help people stay in their homes during the pandemic. But as Mary Griffin reports, it's a different, more difficult, challenge for small businesses to pay their landlords.

Shelves that should be bursting with locally made candy are empty.

On Wednesday, Jeanette Miller filled a bag for an online order. It’s the only business that comes into her shop these days.

“Business is pretty much ground to a halt,” Miller said.

Her store, Tout de Sweet, is located in the heart of Victoria’s tourist area. But these days, walk-in traffic is non-existent. It could be one of the last days she’s open for business.

“I don’t have May 1st rent. So my landlord, per our lease agreement, can lock the doors on me.  And take everything on in this space. And they can come after me to continue to pay the remainder of the lease,” Miller said.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business surveyed its 10,000 members and Chief Strategic Officer Laura Jones said the number one concern is rent.

“One-quarter of them are saying they won’t make their rent payment. For example, hospitality, we’ve got 40 percent saying they can’t make their rent,” Jones said.

And it’s not just businesses feeling the stress.  Emily Rogers is a tenant legal advocate for the non-profit organization, Together Against Poverty.  TAPS provides free, face-to-face legal advocacy for people with income assistance, disability benefits, employment standards, and tenancy issues.   Rogers said that the group is fielding dozens of calls daily.

“People are calling many times in a row. People are very anxious. We’re hearing tons of fear and anxiety about their housing security,” Rogers said.

Residential renters are in line for a rental subsidy of $500 per household for three months starting May first.  “I’m very concerned about the impact of compounding debt on arrears, and what will happen when those arrears are due,” Rogers said.

But there remains little in the way of rent relief for businesses.

Premier John Horgan addressed the issue during a news conference in Victoria Wednesday but stopped short of promising anything.

“When your business is empty for weeks at a time. this is a significant challenge.  Both orders of government understand that,” Horgan said.

“We started with a five billion dollar package just last week. The federal government continues to bring forward initiatives. We’ll be in contact as we are regularly with the federal government to make sure that we target relief and support for small businesses, and, most importantly, their employees that keep those businesses operating.”

With little help, Miller says she is hanging on to one thing.

“I think the one thing that we entrepreneurs, and we business owners, what we are like, is that we always have hope. And I think we are all kind of just putting one foot in front of the other with the intention that we might get out of this,” Miller said.

Although it could be months and many rent deadlines before anything resembling normal times return.

READ MORE: 53 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., provincial total at 1,066

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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