Up to 142,000 households in Nevada are estimated to face eviction once the statewide eviction moratorium ends, according to the Guinn Center. That means anywhere from 272,000 to 327,000 people could lose housing. Lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bill during the 32nd special session that would halt some evictions in the state, passing it with bipartisan support.
Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered an eviction moratorium in late March to protect Nevadans from housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. That moratorium expires Sept. 1.
In an effort to mitigate a huge backlog in the court systems come September, and keep people housed, Senate Bill 1 introduces an alternative dispute resolution for renters. That means, if tenants are facing an eviction for non-payment of rent, they can remain in place for 30 days, while they work out some kind of mediation with their landlords.
The Executive Director of Washoe Legal Services, Deonne Contine, explained what renters can possibly do during the mediation with their landlords.
“We’re interested in keeping people in their homes, making sure they have all of their resources available to them, making sure that they haven’t missed that, you know, could get rental assistance, if they’ve had an issue with their unemployment or even just the opportunity to negotiate or speak with their landlord in an attempt to mitigate the negative consequences of an eviction,” Contine told KUNR Public Radio.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty presented the bill and data from the Guinn Center. Republicans in the Senate questioned Hardesty about the hardships the bill could create for landlords in the state. Hardesty said the mediation process can be beneficial for both parties.
“I think the eviction problem facing this state presents enormous hardships for landlords as well as their tenants,” Hardesty said. “This is a step that we hope the court system can initiate to try to mitigate those hardships. As an example, one might assume that the program, if it was put in place, would be an unnecessary delay for the eviction of the tenant. It might very well be that the resolution in mediation is an immediate removal of the tenant without court order, constables or additional costs in exchange for some accommodation by the landlord with respect to outstanding costs, outstanding rent or other issues.
“There’s lots of things that can come from mediation, and so I think that what is important here is the flexibility of an impartial system that allows the parties to address alternatives and consider what is best for them in their own situation,” Hardesty added.
The bill received support in public comment from housing advocates, but some argued there need to be more protections for tenants.
Commenters: A good start vs. a step too far
J.D. Klippenstein, the executive director of ACTIONN, a racial and economic justice organization in Northern Nevada, supports the bill.
“Our state has faced a housing crisis for quite some time; housing insecurity, rising rents and homelessness are a serious problem in our state,” Klippenstein said. “COVID-19 has simply deepened what was already a crisis, and we have deep concern that without additional support for renters, we will see mass evictions and a huge spike in homelessness, especially among our most vulnerable neighbors. I believe that SB1 is a good step in the right direction. To be clear, I think we need much, much bolder legislation moving forward.”
Edward Kania, the president of Southern Nevada Eviction Services, argued that the moratorium on evictions has hurt landlords and that SB1 will, too.
“Landlords have been denied access to the courts for six months, and this proposal will delay that access further, Kania said. “Landlords have been economically suffering during the past six months, despite the fact that they had been providing essential services during that whole time. They simply cannot continue to provide free housing. Parties currently can request voluntary mediation in justice court if they believe that they can craft a solution. Mandatory mediation is not necessary, and placing an additional step in the eviction process is unfair to landlords and will impact further investment in Nevada.”
The courts still have to decide what the mediation process will look like. Judges can already order mediation between tenants and landlords, but SB1 allows tenants to remain in their residency for 30 days.
The bill received bipartisan support in the Senate, but three Republican senators voted against the bill, including Scott Hammond (R-Clark), Ira Hansen (R-Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lander, Mineral, Nye (Part), Pershing, Washoe (Part)) and Keith Pickard (R-Clark).
“While I’m completely sympathetic, I think there’s a false narrative in there, in that we act like landlords are somehow anxious to kick people out,” Hansen said. “When, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Landlords are desperate to get good tenants, and when tenants can not consistently pay, I know for a fact that landlords typically do all they can to work with the people there because it’s difficult to get good tenants.
“What happens when you actually start using the court system to interfere with these processes? I think you can show very consistently and that…it makes rent go up in the long run. It actually makes less housing available for people who want to rent or need to rent, and, consequently, the poor people in our community [are] actually forced to pay higher rates to offset the losses that occur when people are unable to pay their rent. So, if we really truly wanted to help people in the long run, I don’t think this is the right mechanism to do it,” Hansen added.
Securing a fundamental need
Other Republicans in the Senate supported the bill, including Heidi Gansert (R-Washoe).
“COVID-19 and the result in closures of many businesses across our state have put people in an extremely difficult situation with many of them losing their jobs,” Gansert said. “Housing is a fundamental need, and it’s clear the intent of this program is to bring landlords and tenants together in the near term and find a resolution.
“We also know that there’s been $30 million of CARES Act money set aside to help tenants. So, recognizing the strain on households and that we want to minimize homelessness, families’ displacement from their homes, especially in the near term while we’re facing extremely high unemployment rates. I’m going to support this measure because I think it will expedite the process of bringing landlords and tenants together and create an economic bridge for families so they can stay in their homes,” Gansert added.
Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Washoe) supported the bill and spoke about the impacts evictions have on families.
“What we know is that as folks lose their homes and have to look for new housing, they also incur dramatic changes to their lives, whether it’s their kids losing the opportunity to be in the same school they’ve been in, the opportunity to be able to find new housing in an amount of time that doesn’t lead to homelessness, that allows them to retain continuity. That’s important generally, but especially in this moment where we have a virus that spreads upon contact with others. Having a home, a safe place where you can safely quarantine is incredibly important. So now more than ever, housing is essential,” Cancela said.
Lawmakers in the Assembly will take up SB1 next.
Lucia Starbuck is a graduate of University of Nevada, Reynolds School of Journalism. She has reported on issues impacting Northern Nevada, including the affordable housing crisis, a lack of oral healthcare and challenges voters with disabilities face while trying to participate in the election process. She has directed and filmed two documentaries about homelessness.Through reporting, Lucia strives to shine a light on the challenges vulnerable populations face in our community.