Federal and state interventions to prevent mass evictions, including the moratorium set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aren’t protecting everyone and people are still falling through the cracks.
Bailey Bortolin, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said since Oct. 1 the Las Vegas Justice Court has already had more than 5,500 cases, which should be a dire warning of what’s to come.
“We know that 2,500 eviction orders have been granted so far,” Bortolin said. “Rental assistance, eviction mediation and the CDC protections are not catching everybody. But if we think about the amount of people it is catching and removing all those protections at once, we have a humanitarian flood on our hands.”
To prevent people from losing housing in the middle of a pandemic, the CDC issued an order Sept. 1 that allowed tenants to be protected from eviction if they meet certain qualifications such as making less than $99,000 a year, had reduced wages or were laid off and would likely become homeless.
It’s not protecting everyone.
Lynn, who preferred not to use his last name, received a 30-day eviction notice on Sept. 3 and then a five-day notice Oct. 1.
“When answering the five-day notice, I was able to include my CDC declaration packet,” he said. “My landlord refused my certified mail of the CDC declaration so I sent it to FedEx, so I had a record of it being delivered to show the courts.”
But when the case went to Justice Court later that month, the eviction was granted and the judge said the CDC order didn’t protect Lynn..
“I immediately went downstairs to the courthouse to appeal this and have it sent to a higher court, District Court, in order to have a fair trial and a chance to plead my case,” he said. “I was very scared and not able to sleep during these two months not knowing how this will play out.”
The District Court reversed the Justice Court’s decision, meaning his landlord could attempt an eviction Jan. 1.
“You might think it’s over, but it is not,” Lynn said. “Have you been looking for rental homes or apartments lately? It’s a joke.”
There is no indication how many people currently going through eviction proceedings at the Justice Court have submitted declarations to their landlords.
Regardless, Bortolin said the fact there are thousands of cases is staggering, especially since community agencies are working to connect people to rental assistance.
“To me, this feels like a higher than normal volume and we have all the protections and assistance in place,” she added. “It is a very scary cliff we are approaching.”
Some renters, like Lynn, have appealed to the District Court level and ultimately had their evictions reversed. Citing the CDC moratorium, judges protected renters.
However, landlords can attempt eviction Jan. 1 after the order expires.
While Bortolin and legal aid hasn’t represented clients in these cases, she viewed the rulings as a good sign.
“We have been arguing the CDC protections are in fact broad and protect everyone who qualifies from eviction, period,” she said. “That would cover all types of evictions. But there have been some attempts and arguments that a no cause eviction can proceed with the CDC order, just not nonpayment of rent. That’s absurd. If someone qualified for the eviction protection, they qualify for the eviction protections. To subvert the intent of the federal government and order to allow that person, who they intend to prevent from becoming homeless, to then be evicted through a different type of eviction.”
Bortolin said some landlords are attempting to get around protections by arguing a tenant’s lease expired.
“You typically would use no cause when someone’s lease expires,” Bortolin said. “Because this started in March and it’s now November, a lot of people who are in need of the protections are no longer under their original lease. It would be taking the teeth out of the CDC protection to allow no cause evictions to proceed.”
It’ll get worse
Home Means Nevada, the nonprofit established by the Nevada Division of Business and Industry that is running the program, said as of Nov. 18 there had been 483 cases assigned to mediators: 382 in Clark County, 27 in Washoe and 24 in the rest of the state.
Officials were unable to say how many of those mediations have kept people in their homes, or how many mediations have failed and resulted in evictions.
“It’s still brand new,” said Labor Commissioner Shannon Chambers, who is president of Home Means Nevada. “The moratorium got lifted on (Oct.) 15 and the cases started to come in the last week of October and really the first week of November was when a big surge hit and mainly out of Clark County.”
Chambers said the mediation has resulted in good outcomes, though plans to do a “deep dive of the first months of cases” to have a better understanding of the programs.
“Some of the agreements are where the tenant basically agrees to vacate the premises and that’s an agreement between the tenant and the landlord,” she said. “We are also seeing tenants getting rental assistance, which is a good thing. This is a guess, but I say it’s a 50-50 split.”
But the mediation program is funded through coronavirus relief dollars, which can only be used until the end of the year.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next month, but we are doing what we need to do on our side and processing the cases,” Chambers said.
Additionally, she wasn’t sure if there has been discussion around other options to fund the program. By mid-December, she continued, there should be a better indicator if there will be another federal stimulus package that could offer states desperately needed money.
“It’s part of that cliff we are coming up on unless we invest additional non CARES dollars into it,” Bortolin said
There are some rental assistance dollars left, according to the Nevada State Treasurer’s office.
In Clark County, about $48 million has already been issued to applicants or in the process to be allocated by Dec. 30. The office estimated $40 million is remaining, though $10 million is for eviction mediation funding.
Washoe Court has used $6.5 million of funding. About $1.4 million remains, including $331,000 dedicated to City of Sparks residents.
Lynn, who was denied rental assistance, said the process of getting help isn’t as easy as everything thinks.
“This was the most frustrating part because everyone I’ve spoken to, judges, lawyers, advocates, hotline operators, said there is help out there and you need to get it,” he said. “Yes, there is. But the system is broken. It’s overwhelmed. They don’t know for themselves because they haven’t gone through the steps like we have.”
And again, the coronavirus relief funds that have made rental assistance possible expires at the end of the year. With no additional federal help, everyone from advocates to state officials fear the worst.
“Landlords are saying, we are going to have mass evictions in January,” Bortolin said. “It is coming Jan. 1 unless the government takes action.”