by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
January 18, 2023
Lawmakers failed to pass several bills during the 2021 session that would have offered modest tenant protections against a Nevada eviction system that has been characterized by critics as one of the most tenant-hostile in the nation.
Ahead of what they are seeing as an emerging eviction crisis, attorneys with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada are pushing for state lawmakers to revisit versions of those measures when the Legislature convenes Feb. 6.
At a press conference Tuesday, Legal Aid along with Tim Burch, the human services administrator for Clark County, warned Southern Nevada could see a spike in evictions as the county is ending its large-scale rental assistance and drastically scaling back the federally funded CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP).
Rental assistance through CHAP will only be eligible for people living on fixed incomes, such as those relying on Social Security, who have already received an eviction notice.
Barbara Buckley, the executive director for Legal Aid, warned the eviction crisis isn’t over, but entering a new phase.
“We thought that when jobs began coming back after Covid that the eviction crisis would ease,” she said. “We didn’t anticipate the unparalleled rent increases that we’re facing in large part due to out of state takeover of our housing stock.”
Though the county and legal service providers are hoping eviction diversion through the court can catch some households, Jonathan Norman, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said it is incumbent on lawmakers to enact larger protections.
Legislation includes regulating rental application fees, lengthening the period of no-cause eviction from 30 to 60 days and overhauling Nevada’s summary eviction process, a unique process that requires a tenant to make the first court filing after receiving a notice from the landlord.
During the 2021 session, lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 486, which connected eviction proceedings to the rental assistance process to prevent tenants from being locked out while applications were being approved.
The legislation sunsets June 5 and would also need to be reauthorized in the session.
Similar bills Norman referenced on Tuesday were put forward during the 2021 session and failed.
“I don’t know that housing can be ignored in this session,” Norman said. “Last session we were dealing with the pandemic and we were rolling out AB 486 and those protections to keep people housed. Now, our community is going to need housing reforms.”
Senate Bill 218, proposed in the 2021 session, would have placed stipulations on when landlords can collect rental application fees and curbed hidden fees associated with rentals.
The bill was vehemently opposed by the Nevada Apartment Association and groups representing realtors.
After passing out of the senate, Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, a realtor, declined to give it a hearing, effectively killing the legislation.
Norman said there have been countless stories in the last year of people out of hundreds of dollars in application fees still unable to find an apartment. Fees, he added, should be connected to the actual cost of processing applications and landlords should only be allowed to process fees for one unit at a time.
“It should not be a way for unscrupulous landlords to generate another source of income,” he said.
Legislation to amend no-cause evictions, when a landlord can evict a tenant without a reason after their lease expires, also failed in 2021.
An early version of Assembly Bill 141, which automatically sealed records for people who received evictions for nonpayment of rent during the Covid-19 state of emergency, proposed to slow down the no-cause evictions process. Those who resided in a property longer than a year would have been entitled to a 60 day notice, instead of a 30 day notice.
However, the section on no-cause evictions was amended out of the legislation.
Lawmakers briefly entertained overhauling the summary eviction process in 2021 with Assembly Bill 161, but the bill was rewritten ahead of its first hearing to only study summary evictions.
Legal and civil rights groups have long decried Nevada’s summary eviction process as problematic.
Buckley said people often move to Nevada from other states and don’t think the eviction notice, which isn’t filed through the court, is real.
Changing the process to require landlords to file with the court would align Nevada with other states, Norman said.
He also notes the process makes it nearly impossible to collect data on evictions.
“If you go on EvictionLab and want to see eviction data for Nevada, you can’t get accurate data,” he said. “If you receive a notice and you self evict, where is that recorded? There is nothing filed with the court. There is no way for us to know how many people are facing eviction every month. I think one of the wrinkles in summary eviction is that it makes it really hard to collect data.”
Norman said he has spoken to Senate and Assembly leadership about bringing the bills forward.
“I’m looking forward to putting on good hearings that highlight why these are so important for our community and pushing for them,” he said. “I think all our legislators understand housing is the crisis facing our community.”
He said he has not been in contact with Gov. Joe Lombardo.
“I know he said housing is going to be a priority in his administration,” he said. “We look forward to having those difficult conversations about what our community and the people in our community need versus special interests.”
Nevada Current asked Lombardo’s office what legislation regarding tenant protections and the eviction process the governor would and wouldn’t support and the office responded “we’ll monitor all bills, including the potential legislation you outlined below, as they work through the legislative process and engage when we feel necessary.”
Though both the county and state have made investments in creating affordable housing, Buckley said “even if every single one is built we still have a shortage of tens of thousands of units.”
Clark County alone is short about 80,0000 affordable housing units – usually defined as housing that costs renters no more than 30% of their income. Statewide estimates put the supply at about 105,000 units short.
Additionally, rent rates in Southern Nevada have increased more than 20% since February 2020, pricing many tenants out of homes.
During the pandemic, Tim Burch, the human services administrator for Clark County, said one of the more common stories they heard came from seniors who lived “in the same apartment for seven, ten, 12 years paying their rent on time and then had a 20 to 30% rent increase.”
“They could no longer afford any of their rent through no fault of their own,” he said.
Burch said the pain felt by renters in the wake of the pandemic could be worse, and last longer, than even that suffered after prior economic upheavals.
Norman said data from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey “estimates 31,000 Nevadans are behind on their rent.”
“Everybody has this idea that the eviction crisis is winding down,” he said. “I think from the perspective of legal aid providers it will be at its most dire in the coming months.”