Our firm has been working non-stop since the Pandemic arrived advising our clients on the various new pieces of legislation that impact them right now.
The cycle of advice has fallen into a familiar rhythm:
- There are rumours of a Government program coming down the pipeline. Clients call asking if we have heard the rumours. We let them know what we know and caution we need to wait for legislation.
- A Government official announces during a press conference that a program that will be coming down the pipeline. Clients and new clients all asking about the program. We let them know what we know and caution we need to wait for legislation.
- A week passes. There is much speculation about the program. Sometimes another week passes with more speculation. . Clients and new clients all asking about the program. We let them know what we know and caution we need to wait for legislation.
- Finally, legislation is passed. Sometimes it mirrors the press conference announcement, sometimes it is different. We contact our clients and let them know how the legislation actually impacts them.
All levels of Government in Canada have done a fantastic job of moving as quickly as they can with legislative changes. Governments are like the cruise ship in Speed 2, they are large and slow to change course (they are not, however, captained by Sandra Bullock). To see the frequency and large impact of changes is remarkable, but the Government can still not legislate as quickly as a press conference may suggest they can.
As I type this, the current program that is at stage 3 of the rhythm above is Commercial Rent Relief. This is a complicated area of law.
We practice a lot of Commercial Leasing law and the issues that surround rent relief are not simple. Let’s start with what is rent? Some tenants pay one flat rate that includes utilities. Some tenants pay rent made up of a fixed amount and an amount that varies to include operating costs. So, is the rent relief including the portion of rent that is for operating costs or simply for the rental of space?
The Ontario Government has said any landlord using the program will have to freeze evictions for April through June 2020. Ok, but what about Distraints? That is the ability of the landlord to sell the chattels of the tenant to satisfy the arrears of rent: could a landlord Distrain on amounts owing prior to April?
The legislation will give us the details and only then will the above questions be answered. In the meantime remember, a press conference is not a law. Wait until the law has been passed before acting in accordance with a press conference.
Inga B. Andriessen, JD