EDMONTON -- The Alberta government preventing landlords from evicting commercial tenants whose business has been affected by COVID-19, but expects the parties to work together to come up with a rent repayment plan after the summer.

Legislation proposed in the Alberta legislature Tuesday would prevent landlords from terminating leases for commercial renters unable to pay rent, raising rent and charging late fees and penalties for missed payments.

Instead, landlords and tenants would have to create a rent repayment plan. The program would be retroactive from March 17 to Aug. 31.

“If an agreement hasn’t been made, landlords do have option following Aug. 31 to evict, but we believe there’s going to very rare instances of that happening because again, landlords and tenants have the same goal to make it through this successfully,” said Tanya Fir, minister of economic development, trade and tourism.

The government says Bill 23, the Commercial Tenancies Protection Act, patches holes in the federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.

“Landlords are finding the program difficult to navigate, and many commercial tenants have told us their landlords don’t plan to apply. We’re hearing that some landlords and tenants are struggling to work together to develop an alternative payment plan.”

Other tenants, Fir said she had been told, didn’t meet the federal requirement of seeing a 70 per cent revenue decline.

If Bill 23 passes, commercial tenants who would be eligible for CECRA but whose landlords have chosen not to participate, or who had to close their business or saw profits decline by 25 per cent or more because of the pandemic could apply.

Fir said the program should not only offer tenants relief, but property owners, too, as a repayment plan would be put in place.

“That gives the landlords peace of mind as well of knowing that they will eventually receive those payments.”

She called court the last result to deal with any disputes between renters and landlords.

Late fees, penalties or rent increases that had been implemented by landlords in that period would have to be reimbursed, according to the proposed bill, but the government could not undo any evictions or lease terminations made before its tabling.

In question period Tuesday afternoon, NDP MLA Jon Carson for Edmonton—West Henday criticized the United Conservative government for doing the “bare minimum” to support small businesses through the pandemic and reacting too slowly in offering that help.

Fir responded that the province had one of the most generous response models across the country, also providing tax, utility and workers compensation deferrals and relaunch grants.