Protecting Tenants From Evictions: A Human Rights Issue

three people walking down an empty street with suitcases
Covid photo by Simon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A report has just been issued that calls on the Canadian government to assist tenants who are behind on their rents. A Rights-Based Proposal To Address The Arrears And Evictions Crisis In Canada argues that renters have been hit in the pocketbook by COVID-19 safety measures and that emergency financial assistance has not been enough to pay for rental housing, especially in cities where rent levels are very high.

The report’s authors base their call for assistance to pay arrears on Canada’s commitment to housing as a human right. So far, the federal government has tried to steer clear of housing security issues during the pandemic on the basis that housing is a provincial matter.

Provincial governments, which are equally bound by the commitment to housing as a human right, have implemented temporary eviction bans. However, even where eviction bans are in place, eviction hearings are proceeding and orders have been issued.1 Only one province has seen fit to provide financial assistance to help tenants pay rent. The housing that is so crucial to making sure people are safe during COVID is becoming increasingly precarious. It is especially true for tenants with very low incomes who struggle daily to put food on the table, let alone find money save and one day pay back arrears and rent that continues, week by week, to accumulate.

The report also offers a straightforward program that would assist tenants who have lost income during COVID to pay outstanding and ongoing arrears. It has been presented to the Canadian government as it prepares its 2021-22 budget.

This report is interesting because it views the issue of COVID-induced arrears through a human rights lens. COVID has been a world wide health and economic shock. In such circumstances international human rights law supports eviction moratoriums and financial assistance to pay arrears.

This rights based approach ought to assist advocates and decision makers who are striving to realize housing as a human right. From a practical standpoint, it will appeal to those who want to prevent a flood of homelessness that threatens tenants, as well as to landlords who are missing rent revenues.

The approach to preparing the report will also be of interest to groups that are writing about issues where there is a diversity of viewpoints. As they were drafting the report, the Centre for Equality Rights and Accommodation and the National Right To Housing Network coordinated a process to seek input from people with experience of eviction and homelessness as well as service agencies and community groups.

You can read the full report at the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation: A Rights-Based Proposal To Address The Arrears And Evictions Crisis In Canada

Those interested in learning more or supporting the proposed program can check out the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation and the National Right to Housing Network

Footnotes

  1. For a taste of how this is playing out in Toronto, where half of all households are renters, here a documentary from the CBC: Revolution in the Hallways

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