Less than two weeks after Democratic state Sen. Julia Ratti presented legislation to provide greater tenant protections that was maligned by the rental industry, Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson presented a tenant bill the industry likes.
Ratti’s bill mandates a three-day grace period before imposing fees on unpaid rent. That’s where her and Frierson’s proposal, Assembly Bill 308, are aligned.
But Ratti’s bill also clamps down on hidden fees in leases and prohibits landlords from charging fees to submit applications.
During a committee hearing Monday, Frierson said his bill protects tenants without burdening landlords.
“As Nevada continues to see slower economic recovery, as compared to other states across the country, I believe it’s critical that we find ways to help tenants adequately prepare for the unexpected while not placing excessive burdens on landlords,” he said.
In addition to putting to the three-day grace period before imposing late fees, the legislation would also extend the timeframe landlords must notify tenants of a rent increase from 45 days to 60.
Under Ratti’s bill, the grace period would apply to weekly motels, which advocates say have been most aggressive about circumventing the eviction moratorium and levying fees on tenants.
Frierson’s bill doesn’t.
“This bill creates a more balanced and transparent approach to landlord-tenant issues than what we have faced in a lot of the other bills in the last session and this session,” said Teresa McKee, the CEO of Nevada Realtors, who was invited to speak on the bill following Frierson’s presentation.
Housing justice organizers and legal advocacy organizations eagerly supported Ratti’s bill, but have been pushing for tenant protections, and also testified in support of Frierson’s.
“It’s promising realtors are willing to come forward with some protections toward tenants,” Ben Challinor, the policy director of Faith in Action, said in an interview following the hearing. “We definitely hope to see more support for a lot of the protections we’re trying to put out for tenants.”
Because of Nevada’s summary unique eviction process, which allows tenants to be evicted without a court appearance, advocates argue tenants are more vulnerable to being forced out of their homes.
They say the Covid-19 pandemic, which put thousands of people at risk of losing housing and underscored Nevada’s housing crisis, makes action on tenant rights all the more urgent.
The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the ACLU of Nevada, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Make the Road viewed Senate Bill 218, sponsored by Ratti, as an answer to finally expanding tenant protections.
In addition to requiring a three day grace period for rent, Ratti’s proposal would require landlords to clearly describe all the included fees on the front page of the lease, prohibit fees to submit rental applications, shorten the time landlords have to return security deposits from 30 days to 21 days, and allow tenants to request a property inspection prior to moving out in order to rectify issues that would prevent a deposit from being returned.
But the bill was criticized by landlord and realtor groups who warned of “havoc and chaos” if passed.
Similar to the 2019 session, realtor groups and the Nevada Apartment Association have lobbied against bills in the 2021 session that change Nevada’s eviction process, enhance tenant protections and address the affordable housing shortage.
Ahead of the session, The Nevada Independent reported the Nevada Realtors PAC donated $42,000 to 13 lawmakers. The Independent has noted Nevada Realtors PAC was the industry’s single largest donor and contributed $326,000 to 55 of 61 legislators across two election cycles.
Ratti’s legislation hasn’t passed out of committee and is currently not scheduled to be heard ahead of the April 9 deadline by which bills must pass out of their originating committee before dying.
Ratti couldn’t be reached for comment.
A registry of landlords
Lawmakers Monday also heard Assembly Bill 332 on Monday, which would create a statewide registry of landlords.
The proposal, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, would collect the name of the landlord, the state and county the landlord lives, the number of units the landlord owns along with the address of each place, and the monthly rent for each unit.
The information would be reported to the Nevada Housing Division, but only until June 30, 2023.
Peters said the data collection could help figure out what’s driving the market and paint a picture of why rental prices are higher in certain places.
During the hearing, Peters introduced additional amendments that put limits on reporting requirements.
“Only landlords with more than three dwelling units are required to provide information to the Housing Division,” she added. “Multi family apartment complexes will be required to report rental rates and increases under a separate process.”
Some lawmakers worried a registry would be an overreach and infringe on landlords property rights.
“We need a landlord registry in order to have better transparency and accountability and actually identify bad actors throughout the state” countered Annette Magnus, the executive director of Battle Born Progress. “This is not an over reach.”
There wasn’t opposition to the bill. The Nevada Apartment Association testified in “neutral.”