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State lawmaker drafting bill to give local governments power to tackle rent, housing

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by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

Democratic State Sen. Edgar Flores plans to introduce legislation this session to make it “abundantly clear” that local officials have the ability to implement their own regulations to address housing affordability. 

Amid skyrocketing rents, local and county officials said “Dillion’s rule,” a governing principle that limits local powers to those expressly granted by the state, prevented them from considering rent stabilization and other housing measures.

Flores said he sought opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s legal counsel and believes local jurisdictions already have the power. But Clark and Washoe county officials have both indicated over the last year that they believe they can’t enact housing regulations without approval from the state legislature.

“I think we need to make it abundantly clear, so this is the session to fix that,” Flores said. “We can’t afford to go another two years without giving local jurisdictions some teeth to engage in this conversation and resolve some matters of local concern.”

Similar legislation that enabled, but didn’t mandate, counties and city governments to be able to consider policies such as rent regulation and inclusionary zoning – the requirement home builders include a proportion of affordable housing before new developments are approved – was introduced in 2019 amid fierce backlash from developers and realtors. 

The legislation passed the Senate along party lines, was voted out of the Assembly Committee of Government Affairs, and then placed on the chief clerk’s desk where it died before getting a final vote and without explanation.

Flores said the topic to clarify Dillon’s rule hasn’t been brought forward by state lawmakers since, and they “have an obligation to do some work.” 

Amid the housing crisis, which persisted prior to the pandemic, and fears evictions will spike following the end of large-scale rental assistance, he said “it is ripe for us to take action.”

“Maybe politically this is not that strong or some folks consider this a very difficult political decision because they are hoping to run for something down the road,” Flores said. “This is the time to fix problems for Nevadans and political games need to go out the door.”

Flores did not elaborate on the specifics of the legislation, but he did say it was confined to housing, and not a full override of the Dillon’s rule concept, which also constrains local government authority over multiple other policy areas, from minimum wages and working conditions to gun regulations. 

“We want to narrow it to focus on housing issues,” he said. “We’re working on that and crafting that language so we don’t inadvertently open the door to some other subject matter.”

Flores said he has already reached out to some local officials and “put them on notice that we’re going to have a bill” even though the exact language is still a work in progress.

“Hopefully, they will be able to take a look at it to see if they agree or have suggestions,” Flores said. “I want to work with them. This is an open table. I want everyone to put in their two cents.”

Rents across the country have drastically spiked since the start of the pandemic, with Southern Nevada tenants facing a more than 20% increase since February 2020. 

On several occasions, Clark County commissioners have chastised landlords for sharp increases – Nevada Realtors came under fire after an August 2021 newsletter with the headline “Raise the Roof: No Rent Caps in Nevada”  – and commissioners previously asked the state to take more action.

When asked this month if Clark County thought lawmakers should look at clarifying language, county spokeswoman Yazmin Beltran said “at this moment we don’t have any comments related to Dillon’s rule.”

Flores said state lawmakers have had conversations about home rule in prior legislative sessions. 

Under legislation enacted in 2015, “a board of county commissioners may exercise any power it has to the extent that power is not expressly denied by the Nevada Constitution, the United States Constitution, the laws of Nevada, or granted to another entity for the effective operation of county government.”

He said the bill received Republican support, which leads him to believe the new legislation could also receive bipartisan support, though is still likely to face opposition. 

The 2019 legislation was opposed by Nevada Association of Realtors, Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, Builders Association of Northern Nevada, and the Nevada State Apartment Association.

In a statement to Nevada Current, Nevada Realtors President Tom Blanchard said the group “does not create positions on bills until language is presented” but said the group is “committed to working with the Legislature” on issues of housing affordability.

Nevada Current
Nevada Currenthttps://www.nevadacurrent.com
Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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