Like millions of those unemployed, Bill Livolsi’s job as a union stagehand working conventions disappeared at the start of the pandemic causing him to quickly run through his savings and fall behind on rent.
He and his wife, who lived in their home for six years, reached out to their landlord to be upfront about their struggles.
“I filed for unemployment and told my landlord my job disappeared and that this was going to get rough,” Livolsi said. “He said it’s OK and we will work with you.”
Livolsi said that understanding didn’t last long and he has had persistent problems with his landlord.
After qualifying for federal coronavirus relief funding rental assistance, he was able to pay his unpaid rent. But come Nov. 1, another $1,200 in rent is due.
“I’m going to try to make rent, but I just don’t see how that’s going to happen,” he said. “If I get evicted, where am I going to go? I don’t have family in Nevada. My wife doesn’t have any family. There is nowhere for us to go. I’m a union stagehand and every one of my friends is in the same business. They are all out of work too.”
With Gov. Steve Sisolak’s eviction moratorium for nonpayment of rent set to expire Thursday, many are worried about what happens next.
An estimated 37 percent of households in Nevada, or more than 400,000 people, could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year, according to Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project.
Bailey Bortolin, statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said the order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halts most evictions until Dec. 31, meaning not a lot should change after Sisolak’s order is lifted.
The problem is many tenants still aren’t aware of the CDC order and landlords aren’t obligated to tell them.
“I’m fearful because a lot of the coverage this issue has received locally does just talk about the governor’s order lifting,” Bortolin said. “I do think the CDC’s protection needs to be part of the conversation. While this blanket moratorium on nonpayment of rent evictions is lifting, there is a greater protection at the federal level if we can make our community members who are in need aware of it. That’s the big if in the room. People just don’t know it exists. It’s a community education battle.”
The CDC’s order prohibits evictions for nonpayment of rent, evictions resulting from the expiration of the tenant’s lease, no-cause evictions and evictions of tenants-at-will.
In order to qualify for the 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 of the rent.
- They would likely become homeless or forced to move into a shared living space if evicted.
Some renters previously told Nevada Current their landlords and property managers weren’t honoring the CDC declaration.
After failing to mediate with his landlord, Livolsi successfully submitted his declaration to his landlord, which buys him time. His job as a stagehand, and source of income, isn’t coming back anytime soon.
“I don’t even know how you start looking for a new place when you have no money for a security deposit or to move your stuff,” Livolsi said.
‘There may be cases coming’
The CDC order should provide some sort of a safety net to prevent mass evictions during a health pandemic, but there is still a lot of uncertainty as to how it will work.
“Reasonable people might differ about the application of the CDC moratorium,” Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty told lawmakers Friday. “There is no further moratorium from the governor’s office. As a consequence, there may be cases coming to the courthouses after Oct. 15 that would warrant mediation.”
Along with the CDC moratorium, the state has been working on ways to prevent the forewarned tsunami of evictions. During the second special legislative session over the summer, lawmakers authorized the creation of a mediation program.
The Nevada Supreme Court recently issued guidelines for a temporary residential summary eviction mediation that allows either a tenant or landlord to request mediation in a summary eviction proceeding. The guidance goes into effect Thursday.
Home Means Nevada, a nonprofit established by the Nevada Division of Business and Industry, will run the program and select the mediators. Coronavirus relief money is being set aside to fund the program.
“The court has been advised there are 114 mediators who have qualified to be mediators,” Hardesty added.
The Las Vegas Justice Court, via the Neighborhood Justice Center, and the City of Sparks have already been handling voluntary mediation programs that can be requested before any legal action.
From Sept. 1 to Oct. 2, the Neighborhood Justice Center had 483 requests for mediation, though requests go beyond eviction and include tenant-landlord disputes.
Livolsi reached out to the Neighborhood Justice Center in an attempt to mediate with his landlord, who declined.
Only 40 cases have been closed, but April Thomas, the court division administrator at the Neighbor Justice Center, said it takes time to reach out to all parties involved and schedule mediation. Landlords and tenants, she said, can be unresponsive, decline to move forward or reach an agreement outside of mediation.
Thomas was unclear what the process would be once the state Supreme Court’s rules go into effect this week.
But both parties would have to come to the table to negotiate.
“If the tenant doesn’t show up, the case could proceed because the landlord has the right to move forward,” Bortolin said. “But the landlord doesn’t have the right to move forward with an eviction if they do not participate in the court ordered mediation.”
In addition to sitting down with landlords and tenants, Hardesty said mediators through the program will be able to connect with representatives from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation along with agencies dispersing rental assistance.
“It is critical to the success of this program that mediators, while sitting with landlords and tenants, are able to communicate and contact rental relief disbursement groups to ensure tenants qualify for the funds, can access the funds and that they can be dispersed properly,” Hardesty said. “We are also working with DETR to be able to establish phone lines to allow mediators to call in realtime to determine the status of that tenant’s undisbursed unemployment compensation checks. Those are critical pragmatic pieces to the mediation process.”
The state announced $50 million of coronavirus relief funding would be set aside for rental assistance. Clark County also allocated $20 million.
Less than $10 million has been dispersed so far, but many state officials and nonprofits administering the funds say the money will run out.
Livolsi and his wife reached out to the United Labor Agency of Nevada, one of the nonprofits processing applications, and secured $5,000 to wipe out their unpaid balance. But securing rent assistance didn’t alleviate all of the problems with their landlord.
“He previously said he wouldn’t renew unless we were paid up,” Livolsi said. “When we got paid up, we asked about renewing the lease. He said no and that he wasn’t renewing until I got my job back.”
When Livolsi and his wife moved in six years ago, they were paying $950. Over the course of renewing, rent bumped up incrementally until it reached $1,050 last year.
In July, they learned it was jumping to $1,200 on Sept. 1.
Between the CDC moratorium, rent assistance and mediation, state officials and legal groups are hoping to prevent an onslaught of evictions. But Hardesty warned lawmakers of a “confluence of events” happening Dec. 31.
Both the CDC order and the timeframe to use coronavirus relief dollars expire at the end of the year.
Not only does that mean tenants and landlords wouldn’t have access to rental relief funds, but also there wouldn’t be any funds for eviction mediation. Hardesty said while they are exploring other funding options, “no definitive source has been identified.”
“Come January, there will be no moratorium and no money to handle eviction mediations,” Hardesty said. “That seems to me to be a problem.”