The Northwest Territories government has finally responded to a call for a moratorium on commercial evictions, but the answer is not what businesses were hoping for.
The initial call for a moratorium came from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in a May 1 letter to all provincial and territorial premiers. When it did not hear back, the N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce issued a follow up letter a week later.
Both groups say closures ordered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have choked off the revenues of small businesses, which need the moratorium until businesses start receiving funding from federal support programs, including funding announced on Wednesday.
In an email to its members Tuesday, the N.W.T. chamber says it finally received a response from Premier Caroline Cochrane on Sunday. The premier said her government will not block commercial evictions mainly because that would require changes to the Landlord Tenancies Act “and that the GNWT [government of the Northwest Territories] has faith that landlords will not be evicting tenants right now,” according to the chamber.
In a response sent to the premier on Tuesday, the chamber said it is not always reasonable to count on the generosity and understanding of landlords, particularly the big ones that own much of the commercial space in Yellowknife.
“The reality is that a majority of landlords in the N.W.T. are multinational REITs who have anchor tenants, the GNWT, in their buildings,” noted the chamber. “Thus having a few spaces sit empty has zero effect on their bottom line, as proven with the vacancy that continues to sit in the Centre Square Mall.”
Last week a chamber official said they are not aware of any business owners in the N.W.T. facing eviction due to non-payment of rent.
The chamber is asking the government to reconsider its position on a moratorium.
“The business community is feeling very dismissed by the GNWT during this time, and this decision will only fuel that perspective,” it said in the email.