commercial rent relief

Half of small business owners in Canada say they can't make June's rent without more help

As days go by and June 1 fast approaches, many small business owners in Canada are facing a difficult reality when it comes to their ability to make rent: they simply can't afford it.

According to a new survey conducted over the long weekend by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Canada's largest association of small and medium-sized businesses, 55 per cent of business owners say rent relief could be the difference between their business surviving the pandemic or having to shut down for good.

The federal government has introduced several programs in recent months to help small businesses struggling due to lockdown measures, including the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).

But experts and advocates have been warning for months that it's simply not enough to keep businesses afloat, and the results of this survey show that above all else, business owners want commercial rent relief.

"We've been asking for rent relief since March. Even when CECRA applications become available we know that program will leave businesses without the help they desperately need," said Laura Jones, CFIB's executive vice-president, in a release. 

"The closer we get to June 1st, the more stressful things are getting and the more business failures we will see. We're begging governments to move quickly to create additional help outside of CECRA."

The survey found that 65 per cent of small businesses say governments have been too slow in providing rent relief, and 22 per cent say they fear eviction. 

On top of that, 50 per cent say they're not able to pay June rent without further help, and this is as high as 70 per cent for the hospitality sector. 

About 67 per cent of business owners also agree that more CEBA money should be forgivable.

Yesterday, the federal government announced changes to the CEBA program — which provides government-backed loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits — in order to expand eligibility requirements.

Still, businesses that repay the loan on or before December 31, 2022 will have just 25 per cent of that loan forgiven (up to $10,000), and businesses say it's not good enough.

"Expanding the Canada Emergency Business Account to cover many more businesses is a great start and it's urgent this be implemented in time for June 1st," said Jones. "We would now like to see government increase the forgivable portion of CEBA which would go a long way to cover the CECRA shortfall."

Meanwhile, the CECRA is meant to provide rent relief to commercial tenants by offering forgivable loans to landlords who agree to reduce their tenant's rent by 75 per cent. But the program is entirely voluntary on the part of the landlord, and many have chosen not to apply. 

In fact, a survey conducted by a group of grassroots organizations representing more than 39,000 small businesses across the country found that just 19 per cent of business owners believed their landlord was likely to enrol in the program.

These factors mean business owners are still struggling, and the CFIB is advocating for several measures to help businesses across the country survive. 

First, they say the CECRA should be made available as quickly as possible, tenants should be able to access the 50 per cent relief even when landlords don't intend to apply for the program, and eligibility should be expanded.

They also say the amount of the CEBA loan and the forgivable portion of the loan should be increased, and property taxes should be reduced by a minimum of 25 per cent. 

CFIB also recommends ensuring that loans from regional development authorities include a forgivable portion and are easy to apply for with a minimum of qualification criteria, and they strongly suggest protecting commercial tenants who are otherwise in good standing with landlords from eviction during the crisis. 

"We described April 1st as scary and May 1st as feeling like a nightmare on Main Street," Jones said. "I don't want to think about the words we'll have to find to describe June 1st if governments can't get their acts together to help businesses at this crucial time. Even with reopening, too many businesses will go down with no rent relief."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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