North Las Vegas Justice Court (Photo: Michael Lyle)
As the numbers of evictions have increased throughout Southern Nevada, Nevada Legal Services has started offering free assistance to tenants inside the North Las Vegas Justice Court.
Lawyers from Nevada Legal Services, which assists low-income residents on a variety of legal matters, are scheduled to be at the court Wednesday mornings to help tenants fill out court documents and give advice on landlord-tenant disputes.
“Part of our work is to have a presence in the court house weekly to make sure the community gets the resources to self-advocate on tenant issues as well as provide representation when needed,” said Heidi Foreman-Toney, an outreach coordinator for Nevada Legal Services.
The service launched July 26.
After county wide rental assistance scaled back this year and an eviction protection expiring in June, legal aid groups and housing organizers have observed an uptick in people being evicted.
Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which collects and researches eviction data nationwide, estimates there has been a 160% increase in eviction filings in Southern Nevada since the beginning of the pandemic.
The number is an undercount.
Nevada’s unique summary eviction process, which requires a tenant be the first to file with the court after receiving a seven day “pay or quit” notice, has made it impossible to calculate the scope of people being evicted or leaving their units after receiving a notice.
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed legislation that sought to change the order an eviction was filed along with a bill to extend a protection that paused evictions while rental assistance applications were being processed.
As the Nevada Legal Services prepared to launch its efforts, Foreman-Toney recently observed an afternoon of proceedings at North Las Vegas Court alongside the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Democratic Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong.
Foreman-Toney couldn’t help but notice the number of tenants facing legal proceedings alone.
“A lot of people are representing themselves and don’t really know what defenses to put forward,” she said. “For a lot of them, there were mitigating circumstances that were presented but there were no defenses.”
Eviction cases are heard in Southern Nevada at justice courts in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas.
By being at the North Las Vegas Justice Court, Foreman-Toney said they are attempting to address racial disparities in evictions.
North Las Vegas’ population is 22% Black and 42% Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.
While Foreman-Toney said there isn’t substantial data on evictions, let alone racial disparities, in the state, nationwide studies have indicated Black women face evictions at higher rates than other groups.
Eviction Lab data estimates that despite being 17% of Southern Nevada’s renter, Black tenants makeup 37% of eviction filings.
“Our focus is to address the disparity eviction has on African Americans in North Las Vegas,” Foreman-Toney said.
The idea to set up tenant services at the North Las Vegas court comes after Foreman-Toney along with two other attorneys with Nevada Legal Services were recently selected as a fellow with the Racial Justice Institute at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.
In a statement, Janerick Holmes, director of the Racial Justice Institute, said “fighting inequity is key to achieving real change in communities of color and communities with low income.”
Even with the majority of cases being seen have been for nonpayment of rent, tenants often brought up habitability issues, such as broken air conditioning units or maintenance problems, that resulted in them withholding rent.
Foreman-Toney that’s another reason tenants could benefit from talking to legal counsel.
“There are procedures and rules you have to follow,” she said. “We want people to know the right way to do things so they can stay housed.”
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