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

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating Mackenzie Courchene, a Langford teenager.
MISSING: Mackenzie Courchene last seen in Langford on March 2

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating the Langford teenager

Rendering of the proposed Esquimalt public safety building. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)
Esquimalt blazes new trail toward modern public safety building

Township using alternative approval process for first time to gauge public support for proposal

Landmarks such as Howard the giant gnome at Galey's Farm in Saanich make a stunning backdrop for celebratory dance in the Greater Victoria Festival Society trailer for its coming Dance Victoria campaign. (Screeshot/Greater Victoria Festival Society)
Residents’ videos help campaign Dance Across Victoria

Celebratory dance clips to be compiled into Greater Victoria Festival Society video

Reynolds Secondary School’s spring musical Freaky Friday features Grace Fouracre as teen Ellie Blake (left) who swaps bodies with her overworked mother, Katherine, played by Nadia Lurie. (Photo courtesy Reynolds Secondary School)
Saanich high school goes virtual with Freaky Friday musical

Reynolds Secondary theatre program to livestream performances March 9-12

Saanich Fire Department. Black Press Media File Photo
Fire displaces three Saanich families from two homes

Saanich firefighters found the fire had spread to a neighbouring home upon arriving

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Most Read