SASKATOON -- Alisa Thompson, co-owner of Epic Alliance Inc., a company that manages rental properties where investments have been made, said the company has accumulated $40,000 in arrears since the pandemic.

With arrears coming from tenants who rely on social assistance, she knows she isn’t going to recover that cash.

“There’s no recourse,” Thompson said. “It's not like they work and I can go to a collection agency or put liens on things, that’s not an option.”

In May the province imposed a moratorium on evictions to prevent tenants from being kicked out of their rentals because of lost wages and financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 shutdown.

In an effort to stop mass homelessness, the province instructed the Office of Residential Tenancies (ORT) to not accept eviction applications for non-urgent matters.

The ORT still accepted applications for urgent matters such as property damage and criminal activity.

On Aug. 4, the province’s ban on evictions was lifted, allowing landlords to file applications with the ORT.

Across the province arrears have accumulated to about $30 million, said Cameron Choquette, executive officer with the Saskatchewan Landlords Association (SLA).

He said the SLA has seen more than 400 applications for possession, most being for non-payment of rent.

“We saw approximately an increase of 100 more evictions from the year prior which we didn’t think was a large increase considering landlords could not file applications for over four months.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, landlords can take decisions from the ORT to the sheriff’s office or Canadian collection agencies to enforce an order to pay arrears.

Choquette said the most common method to collect unpaid rent is through the sheriff at Court of Queen’s Bench but it’s onerous on the landlord and almost impossible to enforce unless you know where the tenant is living.

“It requires a tenant’s forwarding address because in order to garnish wages or to begin enforcement you need to know where the tenant lives so the sheriffs office can start,” he said.

“It’s long and drawn out and can take a number of years.”

Thompson said she feels the ministry could have done more to prevent arrears from piling up on landlords, such as sending social assistance cheques to landlords, rather than to the tenant who would end up withholding rent money.

Thompson said of the more than 400 properties she manages, only around a dozen tenants went into arrears.

“It’s a very disheartening position because even though these people got a free ride those of us that own properties or are in the industry, we had bills the entire time,” Thompson said.

“Can I garnish social services, assistance cheques, I can’t do that, that’s not an option.”

Choquette said he hopes tenants come forward and pay the arrears, but beyond that there’s no simple answer as to how landlords will collect arrears that piled up over the last few months.

“We’ve heard from landlords that feel they’ll never see thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and unfortunately I don’t have a silver-bullet answer.”