The global pandemic has had a profound economic impact on Albertans. As businesses close, and numerous employees are laid off, many Albertans wonder how they will afford their rent. On March 27, 2020, in response to the increased pressure on residential tenants, the Minister of Service Alberta made several orders amending both the Residential Tenancies Act and the Mobile Home Sites Tenancies Act.
What do these amendments mean, and what can renters expect in the coming months?
I Lost My Job and I Can’t Pay Rent, Will I Be Evicted?
Under the new amendments, tenants cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent and/or utilities before
May 1, 2020. The amendments also require landlords and tenants to work together by trying to develop payment plans or other arrangements for rental payments during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on these amendments, it is likely that a landlord will be required to at least attempt a payment plan before taking steps to terminate a lease for non-payment, or before applying to the court for an order terminating the tenancy.
However, the Minister was clear that landlords can still file applications with the court to evict tenants if the reason for the eviction is not related to rent and/or utility payments, or if the tenant has refused to negotiate or comply with a proposed payment plan.
Can My Landlord Raise My Rent During COVID-19?
No, the new amendments are clear that landlords cannot increase rent while Alberta’s State of Public Health Emergency remains in effect. This moratorium applies to both existing residential tenancy agreements, and to any lease renewals which happened on or after March 27, 2020.
Can my Landlord Charge Me a Fee If I Pay Rent Late?
No, under the new Late Payment Fees and Penalties Regulation, a landlord shall not charge a fee or penalty for late rent payments, or for non-payment of rent by residential tenants, during the period of April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020.
I Can No Longer Afford My Apartment, Can I Break My Lease?
In Alberta, the ability to “break a lease” or leave a lease early is largely dependent on the language of the lease itself, and the type of lease agreement in place. If you are bound by a “fixed term lease” (meaning that the length of the lease is clearly set out in the lease agreement, along with a definitive end date) leaving before your lease ends means that you could be on the hook for substantial damages to the landlord for breach of contract.
In this case, the best course of action is likely to speak to your landlord directly about your change in circumstances, and to inquire whether the landlord would consent to breaking the lease early. Remember that the landlord has no obligation to consent. You could also offer to find another tenant to sublet the property (sublease), or to find a tenant to assume the lease in its entirety (assignment). In Alberta, a landlord may not refuse permission to sublease or assign rental premises without reasonable grounds. If permission is not granted, a landlord must provide written reasons for the refusal to the tenant within 14 days of the initial request.
If you have a “periodic” or “month to month” lease, you may terminate the lease by providing the landlord with 30 days written notice, or, if your lease sets out specific termination provisions, by complying with those written provisions. It is always advisable to get any changes made to your rental agreement in writing, and to seek the advice of a lawyer before taking steps to break or leave a lease early.