Small businesses in Scarborough “panic” paying rent amid COVID-19

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In early May, small business owners in Scarborough squares and shopping centers thought about the rent and whether they could afford it.

A rescue program, the Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (OCECRA), could take care of 75%, but it is up to the owners to apply, and some not.

In Huntingwood Square, a place on Birchmount Road, George Petrou worked seven days a week in his restaurant, Hunter’s Pizza and Souvlaki House.

Petrou on April 30 said he had asked its owner, Mohamed Khan, to apply for OCECRA, as had other plaza companies.

Federal and provincial contributions cover 50% of the program, and owners and tenants each pay 25.

Khan didn’t seem to care, said Petrou.

“He doesn’t want to lose a dime,” complained the restaurateur. “But it’s OK for us to lose our shirt. “

Although open to takeout, Petrou said companies like his need a three-month break on rent, just to survive.

Khan confirmed that he was not interested in OCECRA. “We don’t need it, and we’re not going to use it,” he said.

The owner argued that he would not be able to pay the contractors or operate the property if he forfeited 25% of the rents; this money is not “going into the owner’s pocket,” he said.

On the Kennedy Road strip, south of Hwy 401, Ammar Odeh, the treasurer of the business improvement area, said he saw “a mix of communications” on whether the owners are giving a break for tenants.

Odeh has a Telus dealership and its two full-time employees are at home, each bringing $ 2,000 a month to the business through a new federal wage subsidy. His landlord having given up rent for three months, apart from fixed costs such as taxes, maintenance and insurance, he said he was fine.

But some other landlords for the BIA’s 344 businesses “aren’t as gracious” on the rent, and some tenants don’t even offer to pay.

“Those who wait and see usually pay nothing.”

Odeh said he doesn’t think the landlords want their tenants to leave, but they also don’t want to be in the red about their property debts.

Nevertheless, he added, the city should encourage its business owners to follow a set of rules.

The province has been asked to declare a moratorium on commercial evictions.

“Business is panicking,” said John Beers, Carrefour coordinator for the Danforth Business Improvement Area in southwest Scarborough.

Beers said owners are not encouraged to use OCECRA and suggested that business owners should voice concerns to local MPs because “what they do is still fluid.”

Scarborough-Agincourt Coun. Jim Karygiannis said he has heard of a handful of “seriously concerned” businesses that they may have to close completely.

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“I just hope we don’t lose a lot of business and become a ghost town,” he said on April 30.

Bridlewood Mall postponed the rent for its small shuttered stores in April, and their May rent is essentially deferred “until we find out,” said manager Josephine Kwan.

The medium-sized mall on Finch Avenue is still open. With two supermarkets, Shoppers Drug Mart, Dollarama, three banks and restaurants offering takeout, full rents continue to arrive.

Kwan noted that governments do not provide certain details from OCECRA – whether the rent is gross rent or net rent, for example – until mid-May.

For homeowners, paying 25% isn’t much, but they still owe property taxes the same, which is “a big loss,” said Kwan.

If the city cancels the collection of property taxes for three months, “we will immediately give tenants a break.”

Downtown Scarborough, the region’s largest shopping center, said it was determined to “support our tenants” during the pandemic.

“This process is managed with each tenant individually and includes rent relief,” said Adrienne Simic, a spokesperson.

The owners of Agincourt Mall, the North American Development Group, announced a fund on March 26 to offer rent deferrals to its small retailers in April and May. A May 1 spokesperson said company officials were unavailable to provide an update.

OCECRA, announced on April 24, would be retroactive to April 1 and would cover the months of April, May and June.

Jean Yip, a Liberal MP, said that many small businesses are suffering and that it is important that the government act quickly to help Canadians, even if its relief programs like OCECRA need to be adjusted later.

This happened with the emergency wage subsidy, which the federal government tweaked after listening to businesses, she said.

Mike Adler is a reporter for toronto.com and Metroland Media Toronto.

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