In August, the Nevada Realtors Association pointed out to its members that the state lacks rental control laws, meaning, in their own words printed in a newsletter, that landlords were free to “raise the roof.” (Photo by Ronda Churchill)
Whether it’s seniors on fixed incomes or workers trying to stay afloat in a rebounding economy, Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy said he’s heard similar stories of people facing steep rental increases who fear they might lose their housing.
Rents for the Las Vegas metropolitan area have already increased 20% since February 2020 according to a report presented to the County Commission Tuesday.
A newsletter sent out by the Nevada Realtors in August under the headline “Raise the Roof: No Rent Caps in Nevada” informed its members there aren’t rent control laws in the state and “landlords can raise the rent as much as they like, as long as the rent increase does not occur during the current lease,” has Commissioners worried about additional rent hikes.
“A week after we had our last meeting when I mentioned concerns about constituents who were saying their rents are going to be doubled upon signage of a new lease, a week after that we had the Nevada Realtors Association send out a document saying raise the roof,” McCurdy said. “We aren’t even out of the pandemic yet. We have evictions that are slightly up…We have our seniors who are on fixed incomes who are literally penny pinching and splitting their prescription drugs in half so they can have some type of treatment.”
The article in the newsletter, written by Nevada Realtors attorney Christal Park Keegan, said “raising rent rates should identify the delicate balance between raising rent to cover costs and align with area rents.”
However, housing justice groups are warning tenants are seeing rents going up exponentially after leases expire.
McCurdy said now is “not the time” for landlords “to be greedy,” but instead should be the “time to show a little compassion and figure out how to keep people housed before we really have a crisis more so than what we have right now.”
“I’m asking you to work with us,” McCurdy said, addressing the industry collectively from his commission seat Tuesday. “We aren’t trying to work against you. We understand that everyone wants to make an extra buck, especially if you have an extra rental property, but this is not the time to say raise the cap or there is no cap or raise the roof. This is not that time and I find it quite disgusting and disrespectful to the work this board is doing.”
The commission took no action during the meeting.
In a statement to the Nevada Current, Nevada Realtors president Brad Spires said the association is working with “more than 19,500 members throughout the state encouraging property owners to work together with tenants to resolve their issues and concerns, especially during this ongoing pandemic.”
“Our statewide association also supports efforts by Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Nevada’s congressional delegation and other elected officials to engage HUD in conversations about raising the limits on rental assistance from current levels to cover the gap that is occurring due to increasing rents,” he said.
Kirkpatrick recently looked around various ZIP codes to see average rent prices, finding most apartments were $1,400 or higher even in older neighborhoods.
“We don’t have any rent controls for a reason, because we’ve always been able to have an environment where people invest and they get to make a little bit of money,” Kirkpatrick said.
Southern Nevada is in a different environment now, Kirkpatrick acknowledged.
The county, Kirkpatrick said, “wants people to have stable environments” but increased rents create an obstacle.
“I feel like we’ve got to tell people, ‘hey, you can raise them all day long but we can’t put people in there and we can’t subsidize it,’” she said.
Tim Burch, the administrator of human services for Clark County, said most market rate apartments are $1,300 and higher and that Nevada’s home prices are “rising five times faster than paychecks.”
Clark County has focused on keeping people housed during the pandemic by offering rental assistance through the CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAPs), which was created in July 2020. The county launched a portal to streamline the application process in October.
Updating Commissioners Tuesday on rental assistance efforts, Burch said CHAPs has “directly put $100 million into the hands of our landlords and our constituents inside our community.”
More than 32,000 households have received assistance. The processing time has also decreased from 120 days to 60 days.
“The last time we were before you, we had about 20,000 applications in the queue. That is down to 7,900,” Burch said.
In May, the county also announced a partnership with the Nevada Supreme Court, local justice courts, municipalities and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to ensure tenants facing evictions get connected to assistance.
The collaboration is separate from state legislation passed in May that connected the eviction process to rental assistance and directed landlords to pause proceedings while assistance applications are pending.
“The eviction court program has been able to write checks to landlords and prevent evictions for over 2,600 households,” Burch said. “We have 1,800 applications in the queue.”
When a tenant gets a pay or quit notice on their door and files a response, Burch said “the justice court in each jurisdiction sends us a list every morning who has filed a response.”
“Our team then crawls through that list to see who’s in the CHAP application portal already. We pull those out and start working on them,” he said. “If they haven’t applied, we send that to a group of nonprofits — Nevada Partners, Hopelink and HELP of Southern. They reach out and call every one of these applicants and encourage them and help them sign up.”
Burch said the county is getting regular reports from the courts and comparing it to 2018 and 2019 eviction rates.
“They have not yet seen eviction rise above traditional thresholds of 2018 and 2019, but June was a higher than normal month for files,” he said. “We do expect to see some uptick because of the suspension of people’s unemployment benefits.”
But existing assistance efforts could be in vain if rents continue to spike on top of a housing shortage.
Prior to the pandemic, Burch said in a typical month there were 11,000 open apartments circulating in the market. There are currently only 6,000.
“We have a continual problem when folks fall through the cracks and get evicted or they don’t apply for assistance and we help them through one of our rehousing programs,” Burch said. “We have hundreds preauthorized and are looking for units, but unable to find them in a timely manner because they are standing in line.”
The County didn’t offer next steps at Tuesday’s meeting.
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