by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
Pay rent or quit.
The phrase is seen on top of a seven-day notice for nonpayment, a document that can be easily downloaded online and filled out by landlords and property managers.
Without involving a court or attorney, the notice initiates the eviction process.
Unlike every other state, in Nevada, to challenge an eviction notice tenants must make the first court filing in a process called “summary eviction.”
During a recent legislative hearing, Jim Berchtold, the directing attorney with the consumer rights project with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, called the process “counterintuitive.”
“It’s the only legal process I know of where it’s actually the defendant in the case, the person being sued, is initiating the court case,” he said. “The defendant is filing the court case against themselves. It makes zero sense.”
Legislation introduced in the 2021 session sought to overhaul Nevada’s unique summary eviction process, but it went nowhere.
The Interim Committee on the Judiciary, which consists of members of the Senate and Assembly, have been holding meetings on crafting possible reforms to the process.
Following the committee’s most recent meeting last week, the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance, which is composed of various organizations including the Culinary Union, the ACLU of Nevada and the Nevada Homeless Alliance, further implored lawmakers to get rid of summer evictions.
“Aside from bypassing our legal system, summary evictions also cause damage and tension within our family dynamics,” said Andy Romero, an organizer with Make the Road Nevada. “The uncertainty that our families face with these types of evictions causes not only a toll on the heads of households but also on our children, who are already experiencing a global pandemic. What we need isn’t more evictions or a longer moratorium; what our community needs is a bold policy to protect tenants and their families.”
‘For the tenants, it is a very confusing process’
Judge Melissa Saragosa told lawmakers in May that the Las Vegas Justice Court, which receives the bulk of eviction cases filed in the state, has seen an increase of eviction filings for nonpayment of rent.
The court, she added, is on track to have 45,000 eviction cases in fiscal year 2022.
While Nevada has a formal eviction system, which Berchtold said “is like any other civil court case” where there could even be a jury trial if one is requested, landlords predominantly use the summary eviction process.
Summary evictions, Berchtold said, are quicker and “designed to be simple so that landlords can maneuver and navigate the process themselves without an attorney.”
The process “is relatively simple and straightforward, that is, simple and straightforward for the landlords,” Berchtold said. “For the tenants, it is a very confusing process.”
The options for tenants receiving the notice are to pay the rent, vacant the property, respond to the notice or simply do nothing.
Berchtold and Saragosa said there are many reasons people don’t respond, including not believing the document is real because it doesn’t come directly from a court.
“It is literally filled out in pen by the landlord and taped to the tenant’s door,” Berchtold said. Tenants “don’t think it’s real and certainly don’t think it starts a legal process they have to respond to.”
After the time period is over – seven days if the notice was for nonpayment of rent, five days for lease violations – a landlord can seek a judgment from the court and have the eviction granted. The tenant could then receive a lockout notice giving them 24 to 36 hours to vacate.
At this point, Saragosa said, the tenant is panicking and bombards the court with “a flurry of motions” seeking to stop the eviction.
If the court isn’t able to act in time, a constable can conduct a lockout.
“He may have already conducted the lockout by the time we are able to catch up with the paperwork because there are so many motions filed,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s been executed on. It’s done. There is nothing at that point anyone can do to stop that because it’s already happened.”
The summary eviction process, Berchtold said, makes “a lot of assumptions.”
“This assumes that the tenant will actually receive the notice, will be able to read the notice, will understand the notice and will be able to actually go down to the court and take action and file an answer and response,” he said.
The process can also be “rife with abuse,” he added.
“We talk to tenants all the time who are peppered with eviction notices because bad landlords know that if they serve enough notices on the tenant, the tenant will eventually miss one of those notices and the landlord will be able to get a default eviction,” he said.
After receiving the notice, some tenants will talk directly to their landlords hoping to resolve the issue without a court.
“That’s a hot bed of misinformation because a bad landlord has every motivation to mislead that tenant on what action they should take,” Berchtold said.
While the court is on track to see a high volume of eviction cases this year, both Saragosa and Berchtold said the number isn’t an accurate representation of how many people receive pay or quit notices.
The notice happens outside of the court system so it is impossible to track how many notices are issued at any given time, Berchtold said. “There is a whole world of evictions happening that we know nothing about” as tenants receive the notices and self-evict, “because they think they have no other option than to leave the property.”
Making landlords sue first
In addition to reforming, or even ending, Nevada’s summary eviction process, solutions put forward to the committee included simplifying eviction notices and bolstering diversion programs to connect renters with social services earlier on in the eviction process.
Saragosa in the Las Vegas Justice Court wants landlords to be the ones who have to go to court first.
“Our vision is that our landlords would have to file the notice of eviction with the court before it is served,” Saragosa said. “That would give it the court filed stamp, which would give it that auspice of officiality for a tenant to respond to.”
She said the court doesn’t anticipate charging a fee for the filing and it would promote better data collection.
The Nevada State Apartment Association, which said it is working with the Las Vegas Justice Court on a diversion program, also suggests modeling a program that provides education and resources to tenants at the time of move in and lease renewal.
“The final proposed solution would be to partner with Legal Aid, housing authorities, Clark County social services or other agencies to provide free financial literacy videos for our residents in the community,” Suzy Vasquez, the association’s executive director, told lawmakers.
The eviction policy discussion comes amid a housing crisis, both statewide and national, that has seen spikes in rent rates.
Recent research from Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute at UNLV show that seven out of the 10 Southern Nevadans, and six out of 10 in Washoe County, working in the state’s most commonly held jobs aren’t paid enough to affordably rent a studio apartment.
Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong, who sponsored unsuccessful legislation to address the affordable housing crisis during the 2021 legislative session, said eviction policy must take into account the housing crisis and the increased number of workers being priced out of their homes.
“We can’t have a full conversation if we don’t talk about how rents are increasing,” Summers-Armstrong said. “If we have a person who is making $25,000 a year at a hotel, they are a solid citizens with a kid or two, and all we are talking about is how we evict them, we haven’t talked about the process of how to rehouse them and where they will go if rents everywhere are out of control.”
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