‘A lot of tenants are paralyzed but the worst thing to do is nothing’
After being unemployed and struggling financially for 10 months, Richard Calhoun finally applied for rental assistance in January.
His application still hasn’t been approved by the CARES Housing Assistance Program.
Speaking to members of Nevadans for the Common Good, a faith-based coalition that organizes around social justice issues, Calhoun worried about getting caught up on rent before the state’s eviction moratorium expires.
“In January, the $600 stimulus helped us pay the rent but we have fallen behind and been behind ever since,” he said. “The status of my CHAPs was assigned to a case worker in early April. We’ve been waiting on our application to be assigned to a caseworker for almost two months.”
He was one of the many people who shared stories Sunday about falling behind on rent and the fear of the unknown. Nevada’s eviction moratorium, which was extended by Gov. Steve Sisolak March 31, is scheduled to end Monday.
While landlords can file eviction notices starting next week, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s order doesn’t expire until June 30, meaning renters can’t be locked out until July if they submitted a declaration.
Jim Berchtold, the directing attorney of the Consumer Rights Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said if a tenant gets an eviction notice, above all else, they must respond.
Because of Nevada’s summary eviction process, which automatically grants an eviction without a court hearing if the tenant does nothing, people have to file an answer to avoid being locked out.
“I know people are shell-shocked at this point and there has been so much confusion and distress in the last year,” Berchtold said. “A lot of tenants are paralyzed but the worst thing to do is nothing.”
If people had an eviction case started prior to the moratorium, Berchtold said their cases could be in various stages.
“If there was an eviction order granted, the landlord has to take action to get that case reactivated,” he said. “It’s not going to happen automatically. It’s not like on June 1 all the eviction orders are going to be live and the constable is going to come out and lock people out.”
He urged tenants to be on the lookout for emails and documents sent to them in order to respond. He also said people can look up their eviction cases at the Civil Law Self Help Center.
“Landlords have been very creative in the pandemic in trying all sorts of strategies to evict their tenants.”
People can also respond to evictions online.
“Tenants need to be on top of it because if they have a pending case something is going to happen,” he said.
If people receive an eviction notice after the moratorium, Berchtold’s advice is the same: tenants must file an answer.
“This is one of the messages that seems to be getting lost. The moratorium doesn’t preclude” renters from the obligation of responding to notices, he said.
“There is no downside to filing an answer with the court and if you don’t do it you will get evicted automatically,” he added.
The unknown question facing the courts and legal providers alike is how many evictions could swarm the judicial system. Elected officials and judges fear it could be in the hundreds of thousands.
“Because of the sheer volume of cases, filing an answer extends the time before getting evicted,” Berchtold said.
During the pandemic, Berchtold said landlords were “aggressive in their actions.” There were instances where landlords would send a single renter five eviction notices.
“Landlords have been very creative in the pandemic in trying all sorts of strategies to evict their tenants, and one strategy is peppering tenants with eviction notices hoping they will fail to respond to one and a landlord can get an eviction by default,” he said. “(Tenants) have to respond to each and every single eviction notice.”
In addition to filing an answer, he also said renters should elect mediation. Lawmakers enabled the Nevada Supreme Court to set up an alternative dispute resolution program to allow tenants and landlords to find solutions prior to an eviction.
Nevada Labor Commissioner Shannon Chambers, the president of Home Means Nevada, a nonprofit established by the Nevada Division of Business and Industry that runs the mediation program, said during a press conference May 20 they have processed more than 1,000 cases.
“There is no downside to having the opportunity to sit down with your landlord with a mediator who can guide the conversation and try to help you reach some type of resolution, especially if you’re eligible with rental assistance,” Berchtold said.
Electing mediation, he added, extends the timeframe from when a lockout occurs but also could connect people to services, whether it’s help applying for rental assistance or connecting them with unemployment.
When facing a potential eviction, some tenants have decided to leave on their own accord.
“When a tenant leaves in response to an eviction notice, it is wholly inappropriate for a landlord to continue on with that eviction,” Berchtold said. “The landlord should not file a complaint with the court because the tenant is no longer on the property. Do some landlords file a complaint even though a tenant is gone? Yes. What that means is, because a tenant hasn’t answered, the landlord is going to get an eviction by default.”
Tenants can get those cases sealed, if they know they exist.
“We see tenants who years later find out an eviction was entered against them when they go to get another property,” he said.
Assembly Bill 141, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts, recently passed at the Nevada Legislature and will automatically seal evictions for nonpayment of rent that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. It hasn’t yet been signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
And crucial to staving off massive evictions, advocates underscore again and again, is tenants applying for rental assistance.
Nevada has received more than $360 million in rental assistance from federal assistance legislation passed during the pandemic,but distribution of the money has been slow.
Clark County currently has more than 9,000 people on a waitlist for rental assistance, prompting fears some people could get evicted prior to getting approved.
Lawmakers are also debating Assembly Bill 486, which would prevent an eviction from occurring if tenants are waiting on rental assistance applications.
Kevin Schiller, the assistant county manager, said the county added another 100 employees to the 300 temporary workers already hired to help administer funds.
“For tenants who have already applied, I have no doubt the wait time can be incredibly frustrating,” Berchtold said. “What they need to do is go into their accounts and make sure that all their documentation is there and information is up to date. They need to consistently go back to check their account because that’s one of the ways CHAP will communicate with them.”
In Las Vegas, the Legal Aid Center is hosting pop-up clinics around town to help tenants respond to eviction notices. On June 5, it is hosting two events from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Whitney Library and Clark County Library. Legal Aid will host two more clinics June 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the West Las Vegas Library and Clark County Library.
“We’re trying to think of all the ways to make it as convenient as possible for tenants to file their answers to what we anticipate will be a flood of eviction notices,” Berchtold said. “We’re trying to make that process as easy and accessible as we can make it.”
Editor’s Note: In Reno, Washoe Legal Services can provide tenants with eviction guidance and assistance. Visit https://washoelegalservices.org/covid-19/.
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