TORONTO -- Five business groups called on the Ontario government on Monday to impose a commercial eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying many small and medium-sized businesses are at risk of closing.

The groups make the request in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, saying the help is needed as the due date for June rent approaches.

The groups include the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, Restaurants Canada and the Retail Council of Canada.

"Without your immediate assistance, more businesses will be forced to close," the letter says. "In the absence of sufficient support, a large portion of the economy and the jobs created by our hard-working members will disappear forever."

Last month, the federal and provincial governments announced the joint Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program to help businesses stave off eviction during the pandemic shutdown.

The program will see Ottawa and the provinces offer forgivable loans to commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of rent for eligible small businesses, with the tenant covering 25 per cent.

But the groups said some landlords are not applying for the program, which means businesses will receive no aid at all.

"Even though the program just officially started, we already know from our members that many landlords will not apply, meaning that their tenants will not be able to access the program and the commercial tenant eviction protection it includes," the business groups said.

Ford has previously declined to freeze commercial evictions, instead pleading with what he's called "vicious" landlords to be flexible with business tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He has warned that he will take action if necessary, but said there could be legal implications if the government wades into long-term lease contracts.

"If the tenant moves out, what does the landlord think, they're going to have an army of people wanting to move in?" Ford said earlier this month.

"They're going to sit there vacant, so if I were them I'd take 75 per cent. I think that's a pretty good deal for landlords. You either get 75 per cent or you get zero."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.