TORONTO -- As governments ask landlords to be lenient on rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say the deferring payments will only delay the problem.

"What happens to the tenant if they don't pay the rent? At the moment, nothing," said Harry Fine, a paralegal and former adjudicator with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

For the time being, evictions have been halted in Ontario, as the Landlord and Tenant Board has suspended all hearings. When it resumes operations, tenants could risk eviction if they have still not paid rent.

However, the wait for a hearing could take many months, experts predict, saying the backlog that already existed before the tribunal's suspension is bound to get much worse.

"I can see that if a landlord files even today, that it would be 10 months before they get a hearing with the LTB," said Fine. "If tenants want to take advantage of the system, and do so, they can get a lot of free rent."

While Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland appealed to landlords not to evict tenants who cannot pay their rent Wednesday, advocates are calling for government relief money dedicated specifically for rental payments. The government is planning to provide benefits to those who have lost their income due to COVID-19, but that money has not started to flow yet.

Nearly 800,000 Canadians have signed a petition calling on the government to create a relief fund for renters and landlords, and to freeze rent and mortgage payments across the country during the pandemic. The campaign is a joint effort between ACORN Canada, Leadnow, and other organizations.

"The government gives so much breaks to business," said ACORN spokesperson Alejandra Ruiz Vargas. "Breaks in the taxes, breaks in hydro. So why no breaks to the renters?"

Meanwhile, stories are emerging about landlords doing what they can to give their tenants a break. GreenRock, a Toronto-area rental company, has set up a rental assistance program that allows tenants to use their last month's rent deposit as credit towards their regular rent payments. They are also offering each of their almost 2000 rental units a $100 grocery gift card.