Some tenants at weekly motels are being threatened that they will either be kicked out or have their locks abruptly changed if rent isn’t paid. Some landlords have told renters even if they can’t evict a tenant, they plan to enter the property daily until the inhabitant leaves.
Even after some Nevada courts halted evictions from being processed for 30 days, Lauren Peña, an attorney who runs the Civil Law Self-Help Center with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said there are landlords trying to skirt the law and find ways to get rid of tenants who might not be able to pay rent during the health crisis.
“Right now, tenants are trying to understand eviction suspensions and if it applies to them,” she said. “The messages I’m hearing that landlords are giving tenants are really deceptive.”
Groups representing vulnerable renters and unemployed workers are asking Gov. Steve Sisolak to issue a statewide moratorium on evictions and extend tenant protections.
Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Make the Road Nevada, the Nevada Homeless Alliance, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, the Nevada Immigrant Coalition, the Culinary Union and ACTIONN were among several groups who signed onto a letter sent Tuesday.
Several courts have issued orders to stop eviction proceedings for the next 30 days as Nevada mitigates the health crisis caused by COVID-19.
“But because each court has different interpretations, guidelines, and effective dates, tenants are panicked and confused,” wrote Bailey Bortolin, the Statewide Advocacy, Outreach and Policy Director Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers. “We have already seen the terrible effects of this inequity. Landlords, trying to skirt the eviction suspension, are delivering deceptive eviction notices knowing full-well that tenants don’t understand the suspension and will not even be allowed to enter a courthouse to file an answer as directed.”
Bortolin argued in the letter that under state law Sisolak has broad authority “to perform and exercise such other functions, powers and duties as are necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.”
Sisolak’s office did not respond to questions about the groups’ letter.
Groups appealing to Sisolak are also asking that any illegal lockouts during this time should be penalized and that late fees on rent be banned to “slow the insurmountable debt that families are accumulating.”
The letter acknowledges exceptions to evictions such as incidents of situations for public health or safety.
The Nevada Housing Division estimates 45 percent of Nevada households are renters. Despite thousands of people out of work, rent is still due for many of them April 1.
During Sisolak’s Facebook live briefing Tuesday, people flooded the comments with questions about rental protections.
“What about freezing rent and mortgage payments?” one person wrote.
“My apartment says if I don’t pay rent, I will get an eviction. How is that fair for the ones laid off?” another person asked.
Even if landlords are unable to start the eviction process, Peña said she has heard some are threatening to lock people out for failure to pay, which is illegal. Landlords, she added, also can’t enter a tenant’s property without giving 24-hours notice, unless under emergency situations.
J.D. Klippenstein, the executive director of the Reno-based housing group ACTIONN, argued housing security should be a matter of public health. It’s hard to “stay home for Nevada,” which is being asked by the governor along with other officials, if people are forced from their homes, Klippenstein said.
“I don’t understand the lack of human decency to pursue eviction at this point,” he added. “It baffles me. Even if it’s the worst tenant in the world, is now the time to evict?”
If Sisolak issued an executive order, Bortolin wrote, it would expose deceptive practices and assure tenants that they have the right to stay in their homes during this time.
“The Governor has already exercised his authority over businesses, and the business of landlords should be no different,” the letter noted. “Closing non-essential businesses was intended to prevent the gathering of Nevadans and to encourage them to stay home. It is therefore vital to the safety and protection of Nevada that we ensure Nevadans have a home to stay in. The issuance of eviction notices during this time is one of the most threatening and dangerous actions occurring during this pandemic.”
Dealing with evictions and rental protections is just one problem.
“You suspend evictions for the time being, but what happens when that is lifted and landlords come calling for rent?” Klippenstein asked.
Though Klippenstein said something like rent forgiveness would most likely have to manifest at the federal level, he said the governor could use the emergency task force he assembled to prioritize housing security during the health crisis and make sure rental assistance is part of any statewide response.
“We are working to ensure the task force prioritizes housing relief, in particular for the undocumented and immigrant community,” Klippenstein added. “Many of these folks can’t apply for unemployment and they are our most vulnerable communities.”
When asked during a press briefing Tuesday about rental assistance, Sisolak said he was working with the Office of the Attorney General to “research the options we have available to us.”
However, the Office of the Attorney General was unable to elaborate.
“While our office remains in contact with the governor’s office on a daily basis, we are unable to share any legal advice, counsel or information that has been provided as part of the attorney-client relationship,” said spokeswoman Monica Moazez. “It will remain at the discretion of the Governor to publicly release any future plans when his office is ready to do so.”