Tenant Rights in Alberta during COVID-19

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Posted by heritagelaw on Dec 21, 2020 in Blog, Real Estate Law

Back in early 2020 when COVID-19 first plagued Alberta, many restrictions and measures were put into place to protect tenants during this time of uncertainty.

If you are a tenant renting from a landlord, you may have some questions regarding your rights in relation to COVID-19.

Heritage Law wants to clear up the confusion and help you navigate this challenging topic, so we have answered these questions for you:

Can My Landlord Show My Unit During a Stay-at-Home Order?

Up until August 14, 2020, landlords, potential buyers and potential renters were restricted from entering rented premises.

Yet even though these individuals are now permitted to enter your unit, health and legal guidelines when it comes to isolating, quarantining and physical distancing must be adhered to.

This does not mean a landlord is restricted from entering your premises (with proper notice) if you are self-isolating or quarantined. They do have to take the necessary precautions when doing so.

If you’re not comfortable having your landlord enter your unit, explain your reasoning to them in writing. 

Otherwise, there are risks to refusing entry to your landlord if they have followed the rules about giving you proper notice. They could claim that you are interfering with their legal rights and apply to the courts or Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) to have you evicted.

Yet, if you are directed to self-isolate or quarantine, or if you have a health condition that puts you at higher risk should you contract COVID-19, you may be legally justified in stopping people from coming into your home.

In this case, it is best to speak with a lawyer regarding your legal rights.

Can My Landlord Access My Home Without Warning?

When it comes to your landlord entering your home, the rules have not changed. 

The landlord may enter your premises only if they have given you a written notice at least 24 hours in advance. However, they do not need your permission as long as notice is given.

If this is an issue for you, due to the pandemic, please see the above answer for guidance on how to handle the situation.

Otherwise, landlords may provide you a written warning of entry for the following reasons:

  • Repairs
  • Inspection of the state of repair
  • Pest control
  • Show the unit to potential purchasers or tenants

Landlords can enter your unit with no permission or notice if they believe there is an emergency or if they believe you have abandoned the rental unit.

Can My Rent Be Raised?

Although rent increases were not permitted during the state of public health emergency that was in effect until June 2020, scheduled rent increases are now permitted with proper notice.

This proper notice must be presented in writing and include the current date, the date of the rent increase and the landlord’s signature.

The amount of notice depends on the type of tenancy you agreed to. For example, a week-to-week tenancy requires 12 weeks notice and a month-to-month tenancy requires 3 months notice. Any other periodic tenancy requires 90 days.

Landlords cannot increase your rent within a 365-day period of the last rent increase or since the start of your tenancy – whichever is later.

Unfortunately, in Alberta, there is no limit on how much a landlord can increase your rent.

Can I Legally Ask for a Rent Deferral?

Landlords are under no legal obligation to accept a rent deferral when requested but, if your financial situation is suffering due to COVID-19, you are legally allowed to ask for one.

It is generally in the best interest of a landlord to accept a rent deferral agreement to keep their tenants and avoid vacancies.

A rent deferment agreement would allow you to avoid paying full rent for a specified period of time. A part of the rent is expected on a month-to-month basis with the owing amount due at the end of the agreed-upon time.

Rent deferrals are not the same as rent forgiveness and you have to prepare to pay the difference in the future.

If you do enter a rent deferment agreement with your landlord, your landlord cannot evict you as long as you are paying the required portion of the rent and perform your other obligations under the lease.

As with all agreements made with a landlord, it’s important to have the details of a rent deferment agreement in writing.

Can I Break My Lease?

Technically, you cannot legally break a lease with your landlord due to job loss, even if it is related to COVID-19.

This does not mean that the landlord may not be willing to do so. You can always have a conversation with them regarding your situation to see if you can end your lease early.

Offer to find someone to take over your lease. Known as “assigning your lease”, you can get permission from your landlord to have another individual assume the terms of the lease.

The only way a landlord can refuse assignment is if they have reasonable grounds, such as if the new tenant refuses to fill out an application form or pay the rent, and must indicate their refusal in writing.

Should your landlord agree to this, be sure to have them provide you with a release. This is a document that details your new agreement and frees you from all previously agreed to responsibilities in the original lease.

This will help protect you from having to pay the rent if the new tenant refuses to do so in the future.

Can I Be Evicted If I Lose My Job Due to COVID-19 and Can’t Pay My Rent?

Before May 1, 2020, landlords could not evict tenants for non-payment of rent. However, as Alberta reopens, this temporary measure related to the pandemic is no longer in effect.

That said, landlords and tenants are encouraged by the province to work together to develop payment plans for renters who are struggling to pay rent due to loss of income.

Therefore, demonstrating a payment plan is no longer required when filing an application to terminate a tenancy on the part of the landlord.

However, if a payment plan was already agreed to by the landlord and tenant prior to the lifting of these temporary measures, the plan must be honored for the agreed-to time period.

Protect Your Rights

Tenants have specific rights in Alberta and it’s important to understand what they are in order to protect yourself and your family.

If you have any questions about your rights as a tenant, get in touch with our expert lawyers at Heritage Law.