WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba Government announced Tuesday afternoon it is taking multiple steps to help renters and protect the health and safety of landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the province, effective immediately, all rent increases scheduled to take effect on April 1 or later are being suspended and the Residential Tenancies Branch (RTB) and Residential Tenancies Commission (RTC) will postpone all hearings for non-urgent matters to avoid evictions.

“Taking these steps will help reduce financial uncertainty and worry for Manitobans who face challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” saidManitoba Premier Brian Pallister in a release.

“Manitobans who have been laid off, are working less or are in self-isolation shouldn’t also have to worry about making rent payments and keeping a roof over their heads.”

The province said certain exceptions will be made to deal with urgent issues that involve the health and safety of tenants. The RTB and RTC will only issue eviction orders to deal with health and safety, and unlawful activities.

“This approach balances the need to support renters experiencing economic hardship or who are self-isolating in their unit due to COVID-19 with those safety concerns,” said Finance Minister Scott Fielding in a release.

“The Residential Tenancies Branch remains available to resolve urgent situations involving health and safety for landlords and tenants, which could include a landlord illegally shutting off utilities or locking tenants out of their rental unit, or a landlord dealing with a situation where a tenant is conducting illegal activities from their rental unit.”

Non-urgent eviction hearings are being suspended until May 31 and the province said it will continue to monitor the situation to determine if additional adjustments need to be made.

The RTB offices in Winnipeg and Brandon remain open, but are requiring clients make an appointment first. The Thompson office is temporarily closed.

Landlords or tenants with questions can contact the RTB by phone at 204-945-2476 or (Toll Free) 1-800-782-8403.

As of Tuesday, there are 21 cases of COVID-19 in the province.