UCP aims to temporarily ban commercial evictions, but questions linger over the legislation’s mechanisms

By Catherine Griwkowsky June 17, 2020

A new Alberta bill aims to ban commercial evictions until the end of summer for businesses hard hit by the pandemic, but questions remain over how the legislation will be enforced.
On Tuesday, Economic Development Minister Tanya Fir introduced Bill 23, Commercial Tenancies Protection Act, which prevents commercial tenants from being evicted if they can’t pay their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order for a business to qualify for eviction protection under the bill, it must have been forced to close, have seen a 25 per cent drop in revenue, or its landlord must have refused to participate in the federal government’s Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. 
While legislation and its corresponding regulations cover the period beginning March 17, when the province declared a state of public health emergency, until August 31, the ban on evictions will not be retroactive and it will not do much for tenants who have already been kicked out. 
“It is extremely difficult to reverse a lease that has already been terminated, and therefore a decision was made not to include that provision in the bill,” Fir’s spokesperson Justin Brattinga told AB Today in a statement. 
Only late fees, penalties or rental increases will need to be reimbursed by the landlord. 
If a business owner and their landlord cannot reach a rent payment reduction or other deal, they will have to sort it out through the courts, Brattinga said. 
NDP Service Alberta critic Jon Carson said the bill does not solve the problems with Ottawa’s CECRA program and called on the UCP to do more to advocate for improvements.  
The three-month timeframe is also not long enough to ensure business confidence, he added. 
NDP Municipal Affairs Critic Joe Ceci echoed the criticism, calling the bill “many days late and many dollars short.”
Restaurants Canada applauded Alberta’s move, saying restaurants’ little or no revenues, combined with “the inability to convince landlords to participate in the CECRA program or other rent relief arrangements,” is the number one concern of Alberta restaurateurs. 
British Columbia has taken stronger action to prevent evictions. The province’s NDP government issued an order banning commercial landlords who do not apply for CECRA from evicting their tenants for rent arrears on June 1; it is set to remain in effect as long as the federal program lasts. 
Ontario’s PC government led by Premier Doug Ford plans to introduce legislation this week that will reverse commercial evictions that occurred on or after June 3 and make it illegal for landlords to kick out business tenants through August 31, 2020.