Property Management and Covid-19 in Canada

When Covid-19 hit, it meant managers of every industry faced longer hours and more stress as companies sought to stay afloat while mitigating risk to employees and the public. In the commercial property management industry, this meant adapting to changing government requirements and the resulting needs of employees and tenants.

When many property managers thought they had things dialed-in, their jobs took on more depth and breadth overnight. Suddenly property managers also became – to some degree – health and safety managers.

Fortunately, many property managers are adaptable by nature.

“Creating a COVID-19 health and safety plan that is continuously reviewed and updated as new laws and guidance are issued is a critical component in mitigating operational risk in the new COVID-19 reality. The constantly evolving COVID-19 situation means these plans also will need to be revised as conditions change and the number of employees working on-site increases,” as noted in a National Law Review article in the U.S.

The domino effect created by many businesses simply closing in Canada created a domino effect from simple truths: tenants who are not making money have a difficult time paying rent and companies who were slow or shut down during the pandemic also had a hard time keeping up with bills – like rent.

As a Colliers Canada report showed in 2020, 21% of retail, industrial, and office tenants the company surveyed requested relief: “Of these commercial tenants, close to half indicated that they could not afford to make their rent payment.”

So, as property managers have to wade through government requirements and focus on the health and safety of tenants with everything from restricting visitors, ensuring social distancing and proper cleaning of common areas, the health and safety of staff that are on-site and many other areas, they also have had to focus on finding creative ways to help tenants pay rent. One property management company in Canada allowed for tenants to use the last month’s deposit for one month’s rent, others are working with tenants to allow them to pay back the rent over time as their jobs start back up.

“It has been a challenging time for so many people. This has prompted some out-of-the-box thinking on the part of Thorwin Properties staff members. We aim to help tenants navigate this as much as possible,” said Kris Thorkelson, owner of Thorwin Properties in Winnipeg.

Property managers had to also weigh the pros and cons of signing on for a program the Canadian government mobilized to create to help tenants and businesses survive the pandemic: the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses, which lowered rent by 75 percent for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19 and also assisted renters. That program has since been shut down and another, called the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, has been launched. 

“The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) provides easy-to-access rent and mortgage support direct to eligible renters and property owners until June 2021,” according to Small Business B.C. and there is a proposal to extend both the CERS and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until Sept. 25, 2021.

The entire world is learning to adapt to the demands of Covid-19, virtual meetings have been in abundance as property managers and owners develop an understanding of the needs of tenants, the intricacies of government programs, and the best ways to proceed.

“My team has shown incredible resilience and a true dedication to the people who call our properties home. I’m proud to know them, to work with them, and am continually inspired by their grit and creativity, particularly in the face of such challenges,” Kris Thorkelson added.

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