Lawmakers look to fix, extend 2021 eviction prevention measure
Revising eviction prevention law "benefits all of us in terms of trying to keep people housed and try to make landlords whole," said Sen. James Ohrenschall. (Getty Images)
Lawmakers are working to remedy 2021 legislation that pauses eviction proceedings when a rental application is pending after a Las Vegas judge told them the process has been “crippling.”
Senate Bill 335 would prevent tenants waiting for rental assistance from being evicted for 60 days while applications are processed, and would extend some protections passed in 2021.
Lawmakers put forward a bill in 2021 ahead of state and federal eviction mortaria expiring to ensure thousands of people weren’t evicted if they applied for rental assistance, but the law sunsets in June.
Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Melissa Saragosa told lawmakers in April that since the law took effect the court has experienced procedural issues that have “crippled the court process.”
“The current language allows a tenant to make a new rental assistance application at any point in the proceeding,” she said. “In the middle of the proceeding, if (the application) is denied and we get information from social services that an application was denied, before we get to a hearing (the tenant) files a new application and things start all over again.”
Saragosa, who testified in neutral on the bill, didn’t want to weigh in on the policy itself but hoped to give an overview of administrative obstacles faced by the Las Vegas Justice Court, which sees about 75% of the state’s eviction proceedings.
The 2021 legislation created numerous other issues, she said.
If tenants have committed other nuisance violations, such as having a pet in the premises or having unauthorized occupants live there, as long as they are behind on rent and seeking assistance those evictions are stayed as well.
There are situations, she added, where landlords accept rental assistance from Clark County but “are mandated to not bring a new eviction on any basis for 60 days,” not even nuisance violations.
“There has to be some mechanism in here if there is a multipronged base for eviction that the court can still rule on the other part even though the rent has been paid,” she said.
Democratic state Sen. James Ohrenschall, who sponsored the bill, said he amended the language to address Saragosa’s concerns.
“This bill in this amended version provides 60 days (stay of eviction),” he said during his Senate floor speech. “It’s not a blanket stay on evictions. Someone has to provide an affirmative defense that they have (made) a bona fide attempt to seek rental assistance.”
If a tenant seeks to have a cause paused while awaiting rental assistance in “bad faith,” he said, the legislation also allows for landlords to seek damages against the tenant.
Jonathan Norman, the statewide policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said the bill also cuts down on a person’s ability to submit multiple applications for rental assistance.
“You do an application and you’re rejected, then your eviction case moves forward,” he said in an interview. “There are not going to be serial applications.”
The bill passed out of the Senate 12 to 9 on April 25. Democratic state Sen. Skip Daly joined Republicans to oppose the legislation. The bill is scheduled to be heard Friday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone, who is a landlord, voted against the bill arguing there is “already sufficient time for a tenant to cure the default if it is in fact curable.”
“This bill will cause greater delays and legal costs for a landlord who may need to evict a tenant,” Stone said. “The present system works for the tenant as well as the landlord. Everyone should be held accountable for their obligation under lease … If the tenant follows the rules and pays the rent, there should be no issues. If not, there must be a streamlined avenue for landlords to have.”
Ohrenschall pointed to rising homelessness in Clark County as a reason to consider the legislation.
“If in two months a program like this could help a person get the rental assistance they need, make the landlords whole, cure the deficiency, I think it benefits all of us in terms of trying to keep people housed and try to make landlords whole,” he said.
In addition to offering some eviction protections for those waiting on rental assistance, the legislation would also allow for jurisdictions to set up eviction diversion programs, similar to what the Las Vegas Justice Court recently set up this year.
The CARES Housing Assistance Program, known as CHAP, was set up in 2020 in Clark County and used federal relief dollars to cover unpaid rent for tenants struggling through the pandemic.
The county stopped accepting applications for large-scale rental assistance in January and the program is now limited to people going through an eviction diversion program and those on fixed incomes who received rent increases.
“I fundamentally think (SB 335) is pretty important for making sure vulnerable people don’t get evicted if we have rental assistance,” Norman said. “I know some people in the industry say rental prices are cooling. It’s like 1%. If you faced a 25% increase in the last year, a 1% cooling doesn’t mean anything.”
County officials told lawmakers in April that despite transitioning to rental assistance for limited populations, it was still processing applications submitted for large-scale assistance.
Data provided to the Nevada Current in April also showed Clark County lagged behind on approving assistance for those in eviction diversion and households on fixed incomes. At that time, the county had only approved one application of 1,682 submitted and denied 922.
Norman thinks processing applications will run smoother once the county wraps up the applications for large-scale assistance.
Making landlords file first
SB 335 isn’t the only legislation addressing Nevada’s eviction proceedings.
After years of critique of the summary eviction process, which is unique to the state and requires tenants be the first to file a case with the court after receiving a pay-or-quit notice, lawmakers introduced a legislative fix.
Assembly Bill 340 would reverse the current summary eviction process, and put the onus on the landlord to file with the court.
“The fundamental purpose of the bill is to just switch the filing order so that the landlord has to file the complaint that has a court stamp on it like any filed document,” Norman said. “It’s a small thing but it’s significant in that it normalizes our process.”
The legislation passed out of the Assembly on April 25 in a partline vote 28 to 14, but hasn’t been scheduled to be heard in the Senate.
Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong, who sponsored the bill, said during its initial hearing that Nevada “ can’t have a process, in my opinion, that is more fair, equitable and clear for multimillion dollar businesses to fight with one another than it is for regular people to stay housed.”
Though Norman said both bills, if passed, would be progress, there are other aspects of eviction proceedings that need to be addressed in future legislation.
“I think the no-cause eviction timeline is something we need to consider as a state,” he said.
With no-cause evictions, a landlord can evict a tenant without a reason after their lease expires.
Norman said he recently talked to several tenants in Carson City who had lived in their rental units for years, in one case for 10 years, but received a 30-day notice to vacate the property.
“If you’re living paycheck to paycheck or on a fixed income or you have any kind of disability and you don’t have people who can physically move your stuff, it puts people in an impossible situation,” he said.
Lawmakers in several sessions have introduced bills to lengthen the time frame on no-cause evictions.
This session, Senate Bill 78, which offers tenant protections concerning application and rental fees, originally sought to lengthen the period of no-cause eviction from 30 to 60 days.
The language was removed before the first hearing.
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