Coronavirus: Quebec tenants mobilize to demand cancellation of rent, mortgage payments

With rent due on Wednesday across the province, Quebec tenants are banding together to demand the cancellation of rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Grassroots movement have launched petitions urging both the federal and provinical government’s to take immediate action.

“We mean cancel, we don’t mean push back,” said Montreal tenant Sunny Doyle.

“We mean no rent, no mortgage so that people won’t be accruing debt.”

Doyle is also taking part in the “white sheet campaign”, a Montreal-based online initiative where people hang white sheets outside their balconies and doors to show their support for a rent strike or the cancellation of payments.

“It symbolizes truce, it symbolizes peace and care,” she said. “It’s a way to show solidarity with our communities in this time of crisis.”

The situation is dire for many renters who now find themselves without a source of income and having to chose between paying rent or saving money for groceries and other basic necessities.

“We’re anxious, a lot of people are worried about being evicted, about how they are going to make ends meet,” said Doyle.

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“The strike started because people were saying, ‘we can’t pay,’ so in many cases it’s not a voluntary strike, it’s an obliged one.”

Doyle said the group isn’t in a fight against landlords, saying it understands many are also finding themselves in a precarious financial situation.

“It’s the case of my landlord who is a retiree and needs this money to live, ” she said, adding that’s why the group is also asking for a cancellation of mortgage payments as well.

It wants the government to compensate owners who depend on rent as income.

“People who own buildings cannot be paying if they are out of work or if their tenants are unable to pay,” she said.

Some of those smaller property owners agree.

“If they’re (government) doing things for small businesses, in a sense, a duplex or a triplex in a sense is a small business as well,” said Ingrid Heins, a Montreal-area landlord. ”

Heins told Global News that small property owners and tenants need to talk, and landlords should help out when they can but pointed out their fates are intertwined.

“If the tenant can’t pay, the landlord isn’t going to be able to pay the bank, so we need to have deep discussions about our situations, she said. “But after that, the landlord needs to be supported in order to be able to pay for that building as well.”

Jim Benzieri, a tenants rights lawyer, agreed with Heins about the need for honest discussions.

“You have to have conversation with landlords because only then will you know if something is available and only then will they know that you’re not in a position to pay rent,” he said.

Benzieri said renters do have some have some breathing room if they can’t pay rent on April 1.

He explained that landlords have to wait 21 days before being allowed to file with the régie du logment, Quebec’s rental board, to cancel a lease for unpaid rent. He also noted that the rental board is temporarily closed due to the health crisis.

Furthermore, additional help will soon become available in the form of the federal government’s emergency response benefit.

“I ask owners to be comprehensive.  Everybody will receive a cheque of $2,000 from the federal government,” Premier François Legault said in his daily briefing on Monday.

“So I’m asking them to wait a couple of days, a couple of weeks until they receive the cheque. The régie du logment will not accept that some people will be thrown out.”

— With files from Global’s Phil Carpenter

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