“They want us all to be evicted?”: Landlord refuses rent subsidy for Port Coquitlam businesses

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Several Port Coquitlam retailers are calling their landlord for denying them access to a government emergency program that helps businesses cover their rent. From a nail salon to a cafe and a shoe store, the coronavirus has stopped trading for a collection of small businesses in the mall at the southeast corner of Westwood Street and Lougheed Highway.

Helmi Georgey, who operates the Waves Coffee House on the square with his wife and son, was forced to fire four workers after it closed on March 18. Looking at his books, his income fell more than 90% in April and about 70% in May. With a monthly lease of $ 9,500 – his highest cost – he had no way of covering his expenses.

So, like a dozen small businesses in the square, he reached an agreement with the owner to defer half of the rental payments from April and May. According to Chris Andison, CEO of the property management company Value Property Group, which oversees the square and the nearby Westwood Mall, these deferrals totaled $ 120,000, a cost entirely borne by the owner after the lender refused to provide any assistance .

But while in an email to The Tri-City News, the owner said he had to pass the costs on to the tenants so he could meet his loan obligations, for Georgey, it means pay an additional $ 1,700 plus one month on his lease starting in July. to December – an additional cost at a desperate time.

Then came the announcement of Ottawa’s Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (CECRA) in Ottawa, and hope has grown among small business owners that they will have enough help to stay afloat.

As part of Canada’s Emergency Assistance Program for Canadian Commercial Rent (CECRA), the federal government is offering to cover 50% of commercial leases for businesses that have experienced a drop of at least 70% in their income. Businesses and their owners share the rest, each covering 25% so the owner is guaranteed to receive 75% of their lease.

But registration must be initiated by the owner, and for small business owners like Georgey, their owner’s refusal to participate could cost them their business as they struggle to get out of the financial consequences of the COVID pandemic- 19.

More than a place to have a cup of coffee, Georgey says his cafe is a gathering place for people in the community to safely test the post-COVID waters of the province’s gradual reopening.

With a meeting area in the back and enough space to offer a large berth and still accommodate the 55% capacity mandated by the province, the café acts as a community center, welcoming knitting and writing groups, painting classes, outings for seniors, student students, freelancers and even business groups.

“We have a good relationship with everyone,” he said. “You sit down, you look, you feel at home. It’s a safe space to come. ”

“But if the owner does not submit [the application for rent relief], business does not resume, I give the key to the franchise, “said Georgey dusting himself. ” Thank you very much. “

Karan Marcellus of Coquitlam, a regular since the opening of the Solar Nail and Spa 15 years ago, has her nails done for the first time in three months after the salon opened in accordance with the gradual relaxation of restrictions in the province. – STEFAN LABBÉ / TRI-CITY NEWS

Next to Waves, Kelly Nguyen has run Solar Nail and Spa for 15 years. It also closed in mid-March. Last week, their first return was complete, with customers looking to indulge themselves after months of self-isolation.

But many customers are still afraid to go out, according to Kelly and her sister, Linh Nguyen, who runs her own salon on Como Lake Avenue.

With no income to come in the 10 weeks leading up to June 1 and the cost of reopening complicated by doubling the cost of supplies – from alcohol to gloves and masks – access to the federal rental subsidy could mean life and death for the living room.

“It’s day to day,” said Kelly, who was translated by her sister. “I don’t know what I can do now. ”

However, Linh said that his sister’s path out of the COVID-19 crisis was difficult compared to hers. The owner of Linh, off Como Lake Avenue, initially offered to pay the cost of his lease to help him survive the closure and eventually joined the Ottawa rent assistance program.

“You cannot bring it down on one person or one government only,” said Linh, referring to the shared costs of CECRA. “I was just glad that [my landlords] were so kind and caring at a time when we needed it most. “

But for Kelly, it is not that simple, because the lease of her living room expires in September, and with the reservations in decline, she does not know if she will be able to maintain the lease of $ 6,300.

CASH FLOW

On the other side of the square, Foot Solutions is the only retailer specializing in orthopedics in the Tri-Cities, according to owner-operator Voytek Krawus.

Krawus fired an employee and moved all of its online sales for about 10 weeks at the height of the shutdown. However, revenues have dropped more than 70 percent from a year ago, he said.

“Whatever I do in a month, I have to pay all the expenses,” said Krawus. “Having nothing of the three months, I can not suddenly pay the full amount of the lease, plus the first part of the postponement … It is not possible. ”

Krawus said he was trying to find a solution with the landlord, another postponement of the government rent program, which he said was refused by property managers.

Value Property Group would not disclose the identity of the owner it represents. But in correspondence from the company’s main legal counsel, the owner explains why he will not apply for the commercial rent subsidy, citing at least 16 reasons why the program is both “expensive and unreasonable” and why it transfers “all risks and expenses from the government to the owners.”

Jackie Wong of Burnaby returned during the first week of operation of Solar Nail and Spa, but many regulars did not return and owner Kelly Nguyen fears that without the CECRA program, the salon would not be able to cover their lease. – STEFAN LABBEÉ / TRI-CITY NEWS

The last correspondence Krawus received from property managers was a message that he was in default of the lease.

If there hadn’t been a provincial ordinance last week preventing landlords from evicting tenants until the end of June – a window supposed to give all parties the opportunity to sign up for the federal government’s rent – Krawus said he would be evicted.

Yet Krawus, like many local business owners, criticizes the federal government for handing over power to the owners.

This is the only point where the owner and the tenants seem to agree.

All risks fall on the landlord if tenants fail to meet their obligations, wrote Andison of Value Property, describing the CECRA program as “a myriad of unnecessary layers, putting the landlord between the government and the tenant who needs help” .

Andison said the landlord has argued for a rent relief program that closely resembles the province’s residential rent relief program, in which the tenant can apply directly.

But with time running on the CECRA program (applications must be submitted before the end of June), small business owners like Krawus say they have no choice but to take out more loans and go into more debt.

“Any business in this scenario in the past three months – if you guarantee 75% of the income, it would take it with your eyes closed,” said Krawus.

“They want us all to be kicked out?” All the place? Give me 75% a month and I will take it. Why not them? ”

– with files from Haley Woodin



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