VICTORIA -- The B.C. government has imposed a moratorium on residential evictions and will provide renters with up to $500 per month for the next four months to meet rent payments.

Premier John Horgan announced the protective measures Wednesday amid the ongoing financial crunch of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"B.C. is suspending current and future evictions until this crisis has passed," Horgan told reporters in Victoria. He said the rental rebates will be available April 1 and will be paid directly to landlords through BC Housing.

The premier also announced a province-wide freeze on rental increases for the estimated 500,000 renters in the province.

"We're helping renters pay rent and giving them the peace of mind that they have a stable home in these unprecedented times, and ensuring that landlords can count on some rental income right now to keep them afloat too," said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson.

The COVID-19 outbreak has left thousands of British Columbians without work or with reduced hours and wages.

The government-ordered closure of businesses, including bars, restaurants and other service industry employers, has left many workers without money to pay their rent. Still more businesses, including large employers in the tourism sector, have laid off thousands due to reduced demand for services.

That has had a knock-on effect for landlords who are suddenly struggling to make mortgage payments with reduced rental incomes.

Rental property-owner association LandlordBC had asked the province not to impose a moratorium on evictions in the province, saying the move could have "huge unintended consequences and put the entire rental housing ecosystem at risk."

The industry group instead encouraged landlords and property managers to delay any planned rent increases.

The new measures announced Wednesday also include provisions for landlords to restrict tenant and guest access to common areas to protect against COVID-19 transmission.

Horgan said he is aware of the challenges faced by landlords at this time, saying the rental rebate will ensure property owners "continue to see some revenue coming in."

The B.C. government previously announced one-time payments of $1,000 for British Columbians whose work has been affected by the spread of COVID-19, either because of direct loss of employment or the need to care for a loved one at home.

"Homes should be a place of comfort and security," Horgan said. "We don't want people to think that they may lose that home as a result of this pandemic."

Under the new rules, landlords will still be able to apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch to evict renters in extreme cases where there are health and safety concerns.