Industry pushing Sisolak to veto tenant protections bill

By: - June 5, 2019 5:47 am

Inner City Law Center, video still shot

Following last minute changes to a bill that provides mild tenant protections and slightly extends the time frame for evictions, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office hasn’t indicated whether he’ll sign or veto the legislation.

Helen Kalla, a spokeswoman with the office said “the governor will be reviewing the final language in the coming days and making a decision after he’s reviewed the bill.”

On Monday, amendments were added to Senate Bill 151, which was previously passed by both houses, to allow people to retrieve essential items such as medication, basic clothing and baby formula following an eviction, and limits late fees for unpaid rent to 5 percent.

Democratic state Sen. Julia Ratti, the bill’s sponsor, said Nevada’s current laws “tip the scale in favor of the landlord.”

“This (legislation) attempts to swing the pendulum back a little closer to the middle,” she said. “It’s not over the top. It doesn’t do anything outlandish. It means tenants have some protections while they maintain the one thing that is critical for every human — shelter.”

However, Nevada Realtors recently launched as part of a last-ditch effort to pressure Sisolak to veto the legislation.

On the website, the group argues that passing SB 151 will lead to higher rents, more lawsuits between landlords and renters and less housing. It also claims that “45 percent of Nevada households could have their pocketbooks hit by higher rents and overall less housing.”

In an email, the group acknowledged that the 45 percent figure was not supported by economic or statistical analysis of the bill’s impact on Nevada’s housing market, but merely refers to the percentage of Nevadans who rent.

The group argues a 5 percent cap would dissuade renters from paying on time since they would only face a nominal penalty, and would prevent property owners from using fees to offset other costs such as late fees on home loans or property damages.

Additionally, Nevada Realtors argued that allowing tenants access to collect essential items would “create an additional burden” on property owners because they wouldn’t be able to begin repairing or cleaning the property to prepare for a new renter. 

Bailey Bortolin, the policy director with Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said other states have capped rent late fees.

Oregon, for example, has a four-day grace period on late fees and caps fees at 5 percent. Bortolin said that Oregon “goes farther than our proposal to just cap late fees” and has a provisions the state also can’t evict for non-payment of late fees.

While many landlords, she added, are willing to let tenants collect essentials such as life-saving medications, there are cases where landlords refrain.

“This language (in the amendments) just codifies best practices,” she said. “This is just common sense and decent.”

Reno-based housing advocacy group ACTIONN, were surprised that mild provisions were getting sizable pushback.

J.D. Klippenstein, the executive director of ACTIONN, added these are minor steps that provide some sort of protections to low-income renters. He added on a daily basis, the group hears from people on the verge of eviction or losing housing because they can’t afford rent. “These are mild protections and would better protect the most vulnerable folks in our community,” he said.

Efforts to protect tenant rights and make changes to eviction laws are part of a multi-pronged effort to deal with Nevada’s affordable and low-income housing crisis.

Because there is a lack of low-income and affordable housing, housing rights advocates say landlords can take advantage of tenants by applying unreasonable late fees.

Groups such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition note that problematic eviction policies and lack of tenant protections can also increase a low-income renter’s likelihood of experiencing homelessness.   

Attempts to expand SB 151 came weeks after another tenant protection bill, Senate Bill 256, died.

Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, SB 256 would have prevented a landlord from applying rent payments to outstanding fees — when a landlord does this, it means rent is technically unpaid and a tenant could face eviction — and would have also required landlords to return security deposits in less than three weeks as opposed to 30 days under the current law. Realtors called it a “slap in the face.”

In a statement sent out by Nevada Realtors, as well as on the website, the group described adding parts of SB 256 into SB 151 as “sneaky” and “underhanded.”

Klippenstein said it’s ironic the group is calling the amendments added on the last day of session an underhanded tactic. The group’s “entire website is an underhanded tactic,” he said. “I think their self interest is narrow and loses sight that we are in a historic housing crisis. They are not even willing to give an inch and these amendments aren’t even an inch.”

Both Klippenstein and Bortolin emphasized even if Sisolak does sign SB 151, it doesn’t do much to help tenant rights. “By no stretch of the imagination will we be leading the country on tenant protections,” she said.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.