Tenants, advocates say landlords trying to skirt CDC eviction moratorium

By: - September 15, 2020 6:33 am

“Apply for rental assistance, respond to all eviction notices by filing an “Answer” with the court, include that you have a pending rental assistance application and elect mediation. You shouldn’t be evicted,” (Getty Images)

Over the course of a few days, Samantha Forbes has received a seven day no-cause eviction notice as well as a letter from her Siegel Suites property manager demanding she pay the full amount of rent she has fallen behind on, about $5,000, within 10 days. 

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the need to thwart the spread of COVID-19, released an order saying landlords couldn’t evict people for the nonpayment of rent, Forbes said many of her neighbors who are behind on payments have received similar notices. 

“We handed in a CDC coverage letter saying they cannot do no-cause evictions and that we are protected until Dec. 31, yet they are trying to evict us right now,” she said. “They are literally ignoring everything and trying to bully everyone here into leaving or paying.”

Hours before the eviction moratorium was set to expire in Nevada Sept. 1, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced he would extend the moratorium 45 days. But the CDC order, issued the next day, went much farther in its scope and halted evictions until Dec. 31.

Legal groups have said some landlords and property managers — the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada specifically named Siegel Suites — are defying eviction protections and still attempting to evict people. 

While Michael Crandall, the senior vice president for the Siegel Group Nevada, said he couldn’t speak on specific properties (he noted Siegel Group has 12,000 apartments in 12 states) he said that properties aren’t evicting people for nonpayment of rent. 

“The evictions were supposed to be lifted Sept. 1 and prior to that we had filed evictions on tenants that had entered payment plans with us and then broke their payment plan, which was allowed per the governor’s order,” Crandall said. “Then, the governor extended the moratorium. That’s why we aren’t able to evict and that’s fine. We aren’t evicting anyone for any nonpayment of rent. However, if people live on our property and they are a nuisance, they are a disturbance or broken laws or any rules in the rental agreement other than payment of rent, then we are allowed to evict.”

Forbes shared a copy of her “seven-day no cause notice to quit,” which was given to her Sept. 11.

“We turned in (our CDC declaration) Friday and were given the seven day notice literally in the same interaction,” she said. 

Attempts to reach Forbes’ property manager were unsuccessful. 

Under the CDC order, tenants can be evicted for five reasons including engaging in criminal activity while on the premises, threatening the health and safety of another resident, damaging or posing a risk to the property, violating building codes and health ordinances or violating any contractual obligations that don’t include non-payment of rent. 

In a flier released last week, Home Means Nevada, Inc, a nonprofit established by the Nevada Division of Business and Industry, wrote: “Evictions for any reason beyond the five allowed in the CDC order are prohibited, including evictions for nonpayment of rent, evictions resulting from the expiration of the tenant’s lease, ‘no-cause’ evictions and evictions of tenants-at-will.”

Bailey Bortolin, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said some landlords and property managers have been trying to use no-cause eviction notices to work around the moratorium. “No-cause eviction was a little loophole that some landlords tried to drive a truck through,” she said.

According to the CDC order, renters must submit a declaration to their landlord and show:

  • They have attempted to obtain government assistance for rent or housing.
  • They don’t make more than $99,000 per year.
  • They are unable to pay full rent because of loss of income, reduction of wages or hours, were laid off or have extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • They are using best efforts to make partial payments or the rent.
  • They would likely become homeless or forced to move and live in a shared living space if evicted. 

“Education is the biggest piece here and making sure people are aware of the CDC’s order,” Bortolin said. 

While evictions can’t resume until January, neither the CDC’s order nor Sisolak’s extension prevents landlords from charging late fees. 

But what happens if a tenant doesn’t know they are protected under the CDC announcement or that they can submit a declaration?

Legal Aid is sending out information so more people are aware of their rights. With much of the obligation falling on tenants, Bortolin asked whether courts could “act as gatekeeper” to ensure tenants facing eviction have information.

The Las Vegas Justice Court, which oversees evictions, wouldn’t comment for this story.

The Nevada Supreme Court is working on rules for an alternative dispute resolution program, which was authorized by lawmakers during the August special session and would postpone an eviction up to 30 days as tenants and landlords enter into a mediation process.

Forbes said her property has given her false information during the entire moratorium, and worries other tenants who don’t know about the CDC’s order could be victims of disinformation from landlords.

“They are completely comfortable making lies about what is happening,” she said “I’m reading news articles and following press releases and they are literally saying the opposite of what is true and assuming everyone isn’t informed enough to stand up and fight about it.”

She has been sharing information with other tenants to make sure they are aware of their protections, including filing complaints Attorney General’s office or opting into the CDC’s protection. 

According to the CDC, landlords could face a $100,000 fine per incident for violating the order. 

“When our office receives complaints from Nevadans regarding evictions, we evaluate the circumstances of each individual’s complaint and take action as needed,” Monica Moazez, a spokeswoman with the Attorney General’s office said in an email. “We strive to maintain a working relationship with landlords throughout the State, in order to work together to meet the needs of both tenants and landlords. 

Estimates of how many people are vulnerable to evictions have varied from 130,000 to 250,000.

Last week’s eviction notice wasn’t the first confrontation Forbes and her partner have received. 

The couple has attempted to get unemployment assistance and has applied for various rental relief programs without any success. 

Like many others facing unemployment, the two quickly fell behind on rent while waiting for help. Forbes said their property has tried to force them into repayment agreements.

“We told them at the end of the eviction moratorium we would sign something and take it from there, but that we are within our rights to wait,” she said. “We are still waiting for unemployment benefits … We haven’t heard back from any aid for anything yet, but they are already demanding payment and trying to evict.”

She has also filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office throughout the pandemic and is currently seeking help with Legal Aid in order to prevent eviction. Following Friday’s notice, she filed another complaint. 

“It’s so stressful to have to wonder everyday if they are going to be knocking on the door aggressively and trying to kick me out,” she said. “I’m constantly anxious and stressed because this is literally a life and death situation for thousands of us.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.