A for lease sign hangs in the window as a cyclist walks past a commercial store, Monday August 31, 2020 in Ottawa. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A for lease sign hangs in the window as a cyclist walks past a commercial store, Monday August 31, 2020 in Ottawa. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

As feds audit landlords over rent aid, businesses fall through cracks of new program

The CMHC said in a statement the reviews are being done as needed to make sure tenants benefited

Documents given to parliamentarians show federal officials audited at least 127 landlords who received aid through a program designed to ease rent costs for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the figure as of Dec. 10, at which time the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said just over one-quarter of those cases had been “resolved.”

The federal housing agency didn’t say how many more audits have been conducted since.

The CMHC said in a statement the reviews are being done as needed to make sure tenants benefited from the Liberals’ first try at the commercial rent-relief program and that landlords complied with the terms of the program.

The original program provided landlords with forgivable loans that covered half of rent for eligible small businesses, but required property owners to waive a further one-quarter of what they were otherwise owed.

In the end, just over $2 billion in federal aid flowed through the program as many landlords didn’t apply.

Federal figures tabled in the House of Commons show 51,404 distinct property-owners applied to the program, with some submitting requests for multiple properties.

The Liberals revamped the program because of the low take-up, allowing tenants to apply directly and creating a sliding scale of relief, based on revenue declines, of up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest.

The program now includes a lockdown top-up of an added 25 per cent for businesses ordered to close due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Since late September, there have been nearly 112,000 unique applicants for the program, amounting to $986.8 million in aid. Within that, 37,320 applicants received the lockdown top-up, which adds $127 million in spending for a grand total of over $1.1 billion.

A group representing thousands of small businesses across the country said the new version still isn’t living up to expectations because it suffers from a lack of visibility and eligibility issues.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said only one-quarter of its members have used the revamped rent subsidy program, compared to two-thirds that have used a popular loan program that can be used for costs like rent.

President Dan Kelly said some small and medium-sized businesses that would be eligible for rent relief are likely avoiding it because of struggles with the first iteration of the program, or other issues they faced in applying for pandemic aid.

“They moved on,” he said.

“A lot of business owners who are eligible for the program have just not yet applied, because they’re unaware that there is substantive support available in a new program. So the visibility of it is, I think, one of the struggles.”

He also said the association has raised concerns to the government that eligibility requirements may be excluding some businesses that own their own properties.

Often, a company like a restaurant or drycleaner will have a holding company that owns a property and to which it pays rent. Under the rent-relief program, that setup makes a business ineligible because the landlord isn’t at arm’s-length from the business owner.

Federal rules say that a holding company may be able to claim some expenses, such as property taxes and insurance.

The previous program had a fix for this potential issue that Kelly said could make either party eligible for relief.

A fix like that would likely need legislative approval.

A bill to enact aid measures from November’s economic statement remains at second reading in the House of Commons. Bill C-14 would allow the government to put money into regional relief packages and create a top-up to child benefit payments.

Earlier Monday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with her U.K. counterpart in advance of a G7 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers.

“We remain committed to supporting people and small businesses so we can make it through this pandemic,” Freeland said in a tweet.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo screen-shot from School District 51’s website
COVID-19 infection confirmed in Boundary School District

Those potentially exposed to the virus have been told to self-isolate, says acting Superintendent

Stock image.
Judge tells Grand Forks man accused of theft to guard his personal property

Edward ‘Joe’ Wright is accused of a break and entering at a flood-damaged property in North Ruckle

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Greenwood man to stand trial for alleged stabbing

Grand Forks provincial court will set a trial date next month

Grand Forks Mounties look on as a tow truck prepares to haul an SUV involved in a Highway 3 crash near the intersection of Spraggett Road Friday, April 9. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
First responders attend Highway 3 crash in Grand Forks

No one appears to be hurt in the two-vehicle crash which highway stopped traffic in both directions

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Most Read