Despite an emergency statewide directive preventing landlords from evicting and locking out tenants during the current health crisis, there have been incidents where landlords continue to find ways to force people out of their homes.
“You have people go out to get food and come home to find they have been locked out and told they can’t get back in unless they come up with a rent payment,” said North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron. “We have other residents come home to find that their necessary items like the water have been turned off. We’ve heard from some people that their toilets have been removed to make the place uninhabitable.”
The City of North Las Vegas voted unanimously to put teeth on current and future emergency directives. Voting 5-0 at a special city meeting Wednesday, the council approved changes to its city code to fine people up to $1,000 for defying city and state emergency directives.
The measure was introduced to put a stop to landlords and property managers who were trying to evict or lock out tenants who are unable to pay rent because of the health crisis caused by COVID-19.
“Having a significant number of our residents evicted for failure to pay rent will exacerbate an already uncertain situation,” said North Las Vegas City Attorney Micaela Moore.
Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statewide moratorium on evictions March 29 to prevent landlords from filing evictions, locking people out or using intimidation tactics to force tenants out. The action was intended to help people stay in their homes to practice social distancing, while also acknowledging the economic pain and uncertainty that the crisis is inflicting on Nevadans.
As Barron noted, people struggled with housing security and high rental rates prior to the health pandemic that left thousands in Nevada unemployed.
“We had a lot of people working and living paycheck-to-paycheck working, two or three jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “Now thousands of our residents are left without a job.”
While some landlords have worked with tenants offering payment arrangements, Barron added that others have still attempted to skirt the directive.
Since Sisolak issued his directive, Legal Aid of Southern Nevada and other housing rights groups have relayed stories of people being forced out, threatened or harassed into leaving their property.
While the council discussed the ordinance remotely, members of the public were able to submit comments.
One person emailed that they lost their job because of Covid-19. “I filed for unemployment but they’re so backed up it will take some time,” she wrote. “I have four children and one is disabled. Food is running low. I’m scared me and my children will be put on the streets.”
While many tenants submitted public comments begging for officials to protect them during this time, landlords also wrote in voicing frustration with the measure.
“As a landlord it sounds great to the public to say there will be no evictions but how are we supposed to deal with the mortgage payments that are still due?” one asked. “Personally, I cannot afford to continue making mortgage payments, utilities and continuing property maintenance while not collecting rents. These ideas sound great to the public but the long term effects on property owners may be irreversible.”
City councilmembers reiterated the measure preventing people from being evicted isn’t an excuse not to, nor does it absolve people from their obligation to pay rent.
While legal groups and housing advocates called for further tenant protections during the health crisis, they also urged the state to look ahead at potential rental assistance.
On Tuesday, state lawmakers approved more than $6 million in emergency funding to address the pandemic. An additional $2 million in settlement funds was also approved to go to the United Way of Southern Nevada to help with temporary rental and mortgage assistance.