Because of job losses and income reductions due to COVID-19, many people are having a difficult time paying their rent. Each province has developed its own rent relief measures to help residents in this circumstance. Alberta rent relief for COVID-19 includes several measures such as a freeze on late fees and evictions. While these protections can help those facing significant financial challenges due to COVID-19, they might not always be the best financial option for you. Here’s what to know about COVID-19 rent relief in Alberta and how to decide on the best course of action for you.
COVID-19 rent relief in Alberta
Here’s what the provincial government in Alberta is doing to help residential renters experiencing financial hardship:
- Evictions freeze: Landlords cannot evict tenants for failure to pay rent due to COVID-19 related reasons before May 1, 2020. However, they can still evict tenants for other reasons, and the government hasn’t announced any additional protections beyond May 1.
- Rent increase freeze: Rent cannot be increased on residential properties or mobile homes throughout the duration of the state of emergency.
- Late fee pause: Late fees cannot be applied until June 30 and cannot be collected retroactively.
- Payment plans: Landlords and tenants are supposed to work together to develop a payment plan. Landlords can file paperwork to pursue eviction if tenants refuse to cooperate on developing and following a payment plan.
- Emergency Isolation Support: If you are unable to work because you are required to self-isolate, the Alberta government has a one-time payment of $1,146 to help you with your expenses.
It’s important to remember that the Alberta COVID-19 rent relief measures do not excuse you from paying rent altogether during the state of emergency. They simply encourage landlords and tenants to work out a payment plan together. You will still owe rent to your landlord, but there is flexibility on when you pay that rent — whether in installments or at a later date.
Should you stop paying your rent?
You should definitely not stop paying your rent as a result of COVID-19 because your landlord can evict you if you refuse to work together to develop a payment plan. What’s more, even if you do work out a deal with your landlord, all of your rent will be due at some point. It’s best to keep up with your rent payments as much as possible so you don’t fall too far behind. Remember, you’ll probably need your landlord as a reference when you move into your next place, so it’s best to keep working to pay your rent in good faith.
Should you create a rent payment plan?
A rent payment plan could be a lifesaver if you are having a difficult time covering your expenses as a result of COVID-19, but it might not always be the right answer for your situation. Here’s how to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a rent payment plan.
- Don’t fall behind: Paying your rent in installments could help you from falling too far behind on your rent. It’s better to pay something now than nothing because you will eventually owe the full amount. Keeping up with your payments to whatever extent possible could save you from further financial stress.
- Possibly avoid late fees: Your landlord will be able to charge you late fees in Alberta starting on July 1, 2020. If you’re still behind on rent at that time, the fees could start to pile up. By negotiating a payment plan with your landlord in advance, you could avoid late fees.
- Prioritize bill payments: If you’re having a difficult time paying for other necessary expenses such as groceries, deferring some of your rent could help you save the necessary cash for those costs. Similarly, other fixed expenses might be harder to negotiate a payment plan for, so by negotiating a payment plan for your rent you can use that cash to prevent falling behind. For example, since you likely won’t be charged interest for your rent payment plan, it could be strategic to keep paying the debts for which you do owe interest so as not to fall behind on those.
- Full amount owing still due: Your payment plan will likely establish a reduced monthly payment, but then require you to pay the full amount owing at a later time. The provincial government is suggesting within six months. This could leave you with a hefty bill in six months time. If you defer $500 of your rent every month for six months, you’ll owe $3,000 at the end. It’s strategic to pay as much as you can now to avoid a large payment later.
- Late fees could still accrue: The freeze on late fees only lasts until June 30, 2020. Even despite your best negotiating efforts, you might still find yourself in a situation where your landlord begins charging you a late fee in July if you rent is late at that time. It’s best to try to keep up with your rent payments as much as possible to avoid this.
If you still have an income but need to change the date of your rent payments, talk with your landlord about this possibility as well. Landlords have been encouraged by the Alberta government to be flexible about changing the rent due date each month.
How to create a rent payment plan
If you do decide to defer a portion of your rent, you’ll need to cooperate with your landlord to develop a rent payment plan that works for both of you. Here’s how you can approach that process.
Step 1: Calculate your shortfall
You’ll need to create a list of all your fixed expenses and essentials such as groceries. Then, use your income to determine the difference. After you’ve done this, let your landlord know how much you’ll be short on rent each month.
Step 2: Create a payment plan
Together with your landlord you’ll need to work out the details of a plan that includes:
- How much each payment will be. This should be based on a reasonable estimate for how much you can pay
- What frequency will you pay? For example, you could agree to pay $200 every week, or $400 once a month and the remaining balance at the end of the payment period.
- Date that full payment of rent is required: You’ll want to know a firm date for when your landlord expects you to be caught up on rent.
Once you create a plan, both you and your landlord need to sign and date a copy of the agreement.
Step 3: Reassess as income changes
If your circumstances change and you make more money (or less), or return to work, it’s appropriate to approach your landlord about amending the terms of your payment plan. Your goal should be to get caught up on rent as fast as possible once your return to work, while balancing this with other necessary bills. It could help you to take out a personal loan to pay all your bills at once and just focus on repaying the loan.