VANCOUVER -- As more and more people face layoffs due to the COVID-19 crisis, the B.C. government has announced a new renters' rebate and a freeze on evictions across the province.

Speaking from the legislature on Wednesday, Premier John Horgan said the government is offering struggling renters up to $500 a month for four months to ensure they don't lose their homes.

But Horgan stressed that the money, which will be distributed by B.C. Housing and paid directly to landlords, is only intended for those who need it to get them through the crisis.

"If you can pay your rent, you should pay your rent," the premier said. "This fund is there to help people who are in genuine distress. The fewer people who access the program, the more ability we have to expand it going forward."

B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the relief is designed for those who make a low or moderate income and have seen a "significant reduction" in pay due to COVID-19.

The government also announced it is suspending all current and future evictions until the pandemic, which has already prompted hundreds of thousands of layoffs and job losses across the country, has passed.

That includes all evictions already approved by the Residential Tenancy Branch, but not those ordered by the courts, which the province cannot control. There will also be exceptions for extraordinary circumstances, such as cases where there are safety concerns with a tenant.

Planned rent increases have been put on hold as well.

Horgan said he is cognizant of the challenges faced by landlords as well, but that the renters' rebate will ensure property owners can at least "continue to see some revenue coming in."

"Homes should be a place of comfort and security," Horgan said. "We don't want people to think that they may lose that home as a result of this pandemic."

The new measures, which were approved by cabinet on Wednesday, also give landlords the power to control guest and visitor access to common areas.

Minister Robinson said that could take the shape of closing down a multi-purpose space, or limiting the number of people who can use a shared laundry room at one time.

"This is to protect the health and safety of everyone in these buildings and beyond," she said. "We have to minimize the number of people touching shared surfaces."

The Ministry of Housing said landlords cannot restrict access to a tenant's unit, however. Anyone with questions about a particular circumstances can call the Residential Tenancy Branch to learn their rights, officials said.

The renters' relief and eviction freeze are in addition to a previously announced one-time payment of $1,000 that B.C. pledged to people struggling through the COVID-19 crisis.

Earlier on Wednesday, the federal government also promised additional support for those struggling to make ends meet. People who have lost their job, are off sick or are taking care of their children due to COVID-19 will be able to claim the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides $2,000 a month for four months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians should receive the assistance about 10 days after applying.


A previous version of this story indicated, as Minister Robinson stated at the news conference, that the new powers for landlords would allow them to "restrict visitors coming to the building." The Ministry of Housing has confirmed that is not the case, though all visitors are expected to observe the province's physical distancing requirements in common areas.