Lawmakers ditch move to end summary evictions, opt to study them instead
“This is not an ideal time to turn our eviction system on its head,” said Assemblywoman Selena Torres while offering an amendment to trim her legislation down to a study bill. (LCB screengrab)
After acknowledging Nevada’s summary eviction process has resulted in tenants quickly being locked out of their homes, an issue legal groups say was exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic, lawmakers converted legislation to eliminate the practice into an interim study.
Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who sponsored Assembly Bill 161, presented the amended version Tuesday. She said the interim study will allow lawmakers to be “informed by the lessons we’ve learned and continue to learn from the pandemic.”
“I realize this is not an ideal time to turn our eviction system on its head and attempt to implement something new,” Torres said. “Instead, we need to focus on strengthening our protections that are already in place to respond to the immediate crisis.”
A coalition of housing justice organizers and legal groups, including Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, the Nevada Homeless Alliance, the ACLU of Nevada and the Culinary Union signed a letter supporting the interim study.
“While an interim study isn’t the outcome we sought, we’re pleased that our legislators are committed to examining summary eviction more closely,” said Quentin Savwoir, the deputy director of Make it Work Nevada, in a statement following the hearing. “We’re hopeful that the study brings to light the hardships and challenges of the families we work alongside.”
Torres said there are two types of evictions processes in Nevada, formal eviction and summary eviction.
However, the summary eviction process is unique to Nevada and allows tenants to be ousted from homes without a court hearing.
“Nevada is the only state with the burden of initiating the eviction court case that falls on the tenant instead of the landlord,” Torres said. “In fact, it is the only legal proceeding of any kind that I’m aware of that requires a defendant to initiate a court action by first filing an answer. It is akin to requiring someone to sue themself for an opportunity to mount a defense. If a tenant does not file an answer with the court after they receive a seven-day notice, the landlord can get an order for eviction summarily.”
Nevada’s quick eviction process has been a contentious topic for years that groups have been trying to remedy.
Savwoir, who was representing the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance and presented the bill alongside Torres Tuesday, said Covid-19 only underscored the problems of the eviction process. Despite federal and state eviction moratoria, he said tenants have still faced locked outs at alarming rates.
“We are familiar with the devastation in a mother’s voice fighting through tears explaining she’s just been locked out and can’t gather her family’s things until the following day,” he said. “We are familiar with the last minute scramble of trying to help a family find somewhere to stay that night so they aren’t sleeping in their cars.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak recently extended the state eviction moratorium until the end of May. The federal moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires at the end of June.
After the 60-day state extension expires, Torres said there is a good indication the courts will receive a flood of evictions partly because of Nevada’s summary eviction process.
“Nevada will have the hardest time connecting people with resources, assistance and relief because of the abnormal structure of our laws,” Torres said. “We have no way to know how many eviction notices go out on any given day. But our best estimate comes from process servers who have shared in the past that they believe for every 1,000 notices they send out, only 100 people file an answer. That means we don’t have the benefit of a court hearing for the vast majority of eviction cases that could ensure tenants and landlords alike are connected to rental assistance and relief.”
The Nevada Apartment Association is still opposed to the study. Mackenzie Warren, a lobbyist for the association, said she had “reservations about the true aim of this study.”
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