Many small businesses across Ontario and the rest of Canada are gradually adjusting to re-opening. New challenges and problems are cropping up for local businesses every day: how to space out or schedule staff, how to make sure there is enough hand sanitizer and face masks for everyone, how to keep clients and customers safe. But through it all, the biggest stressor and worry for most small businesses is the same as it ever was: commercial rent.

COVID-19 didn’t create a commercial rent crisis, though the pandemic certainly exacerbated it. And even the best COVID-19 relief programs won’t make the commercial rent crisis go away when the pandemic is over.

We’ve known that deferrals and loans aren’t sustainable options and that CECRA isn’t cutting it for the vast majority of small businesses. (As of July 30, just under 6 per cent of Canada’s small businesses have been granted relief and only 20 per cent of the total CECRA budget has been distributed.) With most landlords being paid even through the crisis, who’s hurting here?

It’s the small, local businesses who are trying to create good paying jobs that support their communities. To provide safe and comfortable environments for their staff and customers. And to add to the vibrancy of their neighbourhoods.

We need permanent solutions to help these small businesses.

Even before COVID-19, commercial tenants had no protections and no standards to rely on. Leases vary wildly and can contain more or less anything the landlord wants. Rent can be increased at any rate with little notice and landlords can pass on virtually any other expense (without showing a proper accounting or bill) to the tenants with equally little notice. And tenants have nowhere to turn – there is no advisory service or tribunal for commercial leasing matters aside from expensive lawyers and slow courts.

There was no real incentive for landlords to change how they do business or play fair. You’d think this might change with Covid-19. But the reality is that most landlords are large, hugely profitable companies and they will always have resources and investors to weather the storm.

For small businesses that struggle through the pandemic and survive, there is no guarantee that these landlords won’t  thank them for scraping by to pay their rent by jacking it up or booting them out in favour of a more profitable big chain business.

The case is clear: COVID-19 shone a light on a problem that existed long before and will exist long after. Unless we think beyond deferrals and loans and start tackling how to modernize Ontario and Canada’s commercial tenancy regulation to give small businesses a fair chance.

It’s time that real small, local businesses were heard and supported. To get involved or share your stories, please click here.


About the Better Way Alliance: The Better Way Alliance is a growing movement of businesses supporting decent wages, paid sick days, and fair scheduling laws. Decent work is good for business. Our members employ more than 30,000 Ontarians. Industries represented include services, retail, food and beverage, and manufacturing.