If you’re having trouble paying your rent, you’re not alone. COVID-19 has stuck Alberta with the highest unemployment rate highest of any province in Canada. Alberta is very slowly re-opening its economy and coming out of lockdown but that doesn’t mean that you have a job or that it’s any easier to pay your rent.
Alberta’s temporary ban on evictions ended May 1. Some landlords, like UCP MLA Drew Barnes, are itching to push struggling tenants out on the street, global pandemic or not.
Alberta’s laws are overwhelmingly stacked in favour of landlords, but there are a few protections you need to know about. Your landlord isn’t allowed to raise the rent while Alberta’s State of Public Health Emergency is in effect. Late fees cannot be applied to late rent payments until June 30 and cannot be collected retroactively for this time.
But now that the freeze on evictions is over the only thing stopping a landlord from evicting a tenant for not being able to pay their rent for pandemic reasons is a ministerial order that says that landlords have a duty to negotiate payment plans with their tenants in the event they cannot pay the rent.
To be clear, a landlord cannot evict you unless the landlord can prove either that you failed to follow through on an agreed payment plan or if there is no payment plan that the landlord “made reasonable efforts to enter into a meaningful payment plan.”
If your landlord wants to put you out on the street, you do have options--depending on the kind of notice you’ve been given by your landlord.
The first kind is a 14-day notice to terminate the tenancy. In the example below it’s referred to as a “14 Day Notice to Vacate”
If this happens, you should file a written notice of objection with reasons for the objection back to the landlord. Keep a dated copy for your own records. It’s not a given that the notice of objection will stop the eviction process.
Your landlord might just immediately apply for an eviction order and skip the 14-day notice entirely. Landlords are not obligated to give you a 14-day notice.
In any event you could wait for the landlord to go through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTRDS) eviction process or you could go on the offense and sue your landlord through that same process. In your hearing or in your own suit you’ll need to argue that the landlord did not make a reasonable effort to negotiate a meaningful payment plan. If the landlord can’t prove that they have done that, then the eviction can not move forward.
Suing through the RTRDS is less difficult than you might assume. This page will walk you through the process. Look for instructions there on how to waive the $75 filing fee, which given your unemployed or under-employed status you’re probably going to need to do as well.
But whatever you do, don't move out until your landlord has a court or RTRDS order that says you have to!
After you’ve sued your landlord or your landlord has sued to evict you, you will receive a notice of hearing. This is a telephone hearing between you, your landlord and a tenancy dispute officer who works for the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service. You need to give the dispute resolution officer a number you can be reached at and you must be available and present for the date and time of the telephone hearing. This is where you make your case that you shouldn’t be evicted.
This hearing hinges on whether you’re able to convince the dispute resolution officer on whether your landlord made a ‘reasonable effort’ to enter into a ‘meaningful payment plan’ with you.
There’s no set definition for those terms--the dispute resolution officer gets to make that call.
The Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service does not have to publish their decisions or the reasons for their decisions. The dispute resolution officer only needs to tell you and your landlord their reasons at the end of the hearing. Here are some tips we compiled with the help of Gabriel Chen who is the senior counsel of litigation services at Calgary Legal Guidance on how to navigate this process.
- Insist on written communication in regards to talking about the payment plan with your landlord whether via email or letter.
- Log any verbal or phone conversations with your landlord in a diary. Note the time, date and substance of the conversation.
- Find a copy of your lease or rental agreement to determine the proper amount of rent in question.
- Find records that show you’ve paid the rent, whether that is a bank statement, deposit slip, screen shot from your online bank account or something similar.
- Do not pay your rent in cash if you can help it. If you do pay cash get a receipt from your landlord!
- If you have records, emails or letters that you want be a part of the hearing then you need file them as evidence at least 24 hours before the hearing. In order to file your evidence follow the directions on your notice of hearing. Here is a handy tip sheet on the evidence process.
- Bring your own witnesses if necessary. They can be contacted on their own phones and don't have to be with you for the hearing. Make sure they’re available at the date and time of the hearing.
- Prepare for your telephone hearing by reading this tip sheet from RTRDS.
- Learn more about the law. https://www.landlordandtenant.org/ has a lot of useful resources.
You don’t have to navigate this system alone. There are legal clinics in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge which all help people with landlord/tenant issues. If you don’t live in any of those cities call the closest one--all of their work is being done over phone and email right now anyways due to the pandemic. If you’re at the University of Alberta there is a Student Legal Services chapter there. Unfortunately Student Legal Assistance at the University of Calgary is not currently open.
No one should be homeless, and landlords shouldn’t be evicting people during a health emergency. Landlords may have all the advantages here but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight like hell to keep a roof over your head. If you fight, you can win.
Finally, if you do have a landlord that is trying to evict you during this pandemic, let us know about it too. We can’t fight your legal battles but we can definitely help you shame these ghouls. You can reach us at email@example.com.