County prohibits rental discrimination for source of income, Covid-related evictions

By: - August 5, 2020 5:55 am

Cassie Goff, who lost her job and is facing eviction, urges Clark County Commissioners protect renters Tuesday. (CCTV screenshot)

Cassie Goff, who like thousands of other Nevadans has lost her job in the pandemic, fears she and her children might be evicted and won’t have anywhere to go, she told Clark County commissioners Tuesday.

Once an eviction is on a tenant’s record it is nearly impossible to find landlords willing to rent.

With a flood of evictions expected to hit after the state’s moratorium lifts in September, many fear thousands could be prevented from finding or maintaining housing in the middle of a combined health pandemic and economic crisis. 

To curtail potential housing issues, the commission voted unanimously to create an emergency ordinance that prevents discrimination against renters based on Covid-related evictions. The ordinance also prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to or make a property available to people based on their source of income such as housing vouchers or other assistance.

“Seventeen other states have already adopted source of income laws along with more than 80 cities and counties from Denver to San Diego,” said Commissioner Justin Jones, who proposed the ordinance. “Utah, not exactly a bastion of liberality, has adopted a source of income discrimination law. According to research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as well Housing and Urban Development, laws preventing discrimination against those with housing vouchers improve the likelihood that voucher recipients can find suitable housing.” 

Sources of income, according to the new ordinance, includes housing choice vouchers or Section 8, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, rental subsidies and emergency assistance payments.

“This ordinance is not requiring (landlords) to rent to people who are unable to pay their rent,” Jones said. “It is for those who come with a voucher or another source of income and are able to pay. It ought to be a benefit to the property owner to have that assurance they are going to get paid.”

Emily Paulsen, the executive director of the Nevada Homeless Alliance, told commissioners Section 8 recipients and people who are disabled who have stable income because of benefits like unemployment or social service assistance are still being rejected by landlords when applying for housing.

“Our unemployed Clark County residents should not be denied housing because they are relying on unemployment benefits through no fault of their own,” Paulsen said. “This is an extremely important step of many that we need to be taking right now to prevent a surge or thousands of people becoming homeless.”

The Nevada Apartment Association and the Las Vegas Realtors were opposed to the ordinance, but Jones said he is working to address their concerns. 

Since the bill was introduced in July the draft was amended to exclude landlords who only have one rental unit. A Dec. 31 expiration date was also added, with the notion that commissioners can come back to extend it if needed.

Since the start of the pandemic, resources at the local and state level have been allocated to keep people in their homes. An eviction moratorium was put in place in March by Gov. Steve Sisolak to prevent people from being pushed out of housing because they couldn’t pay rent, but that ends Sept. 1. 

Both the state and local municipalities have set up housing and utility assistance programs to help people pay rent and keep people in their homes, sometimes back-paying two or three months. 

The state directed $20 million of coronavirus relief funding to go to the Clark County toward housing assistance, while the county allocated another $30 million for rental assistance.

One of the concerns is landlords might be reluctant to work with tenants who need emergency relief. 

“These types of ordinances, these types of laws, will make it more likely that our own County CARES program will be successful,” Jones said. “If we allow for discrimination against those with county assistance or county vouchers, people already in dire circumstances will be denied the opportunity to find stable housing. Or they may end up homeless.” 

The county isn’t the only entity assessing tenant protections. 

Also fearing a rise in evictions and the strain on the court system, the Nevada Legislature also passed Senate Bill 1 during the special session, which stays an eviction for no more than 30 days while tenants and landlords go through an alternative dispute resolution program. 

The program, championed by Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, would take the burden off the court system, which could see three times as many eviction cases after the moratorium is lifted.

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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.