Friday, June 25, 2021
Nevada housing advocates claimed a victory this week after the Biden administration declared a 30-day extension of a nationwide eviction moratorium, but also warned that at-risk tenants will continue to fall through the cracks if they are unaware of their rights or the legal protocols they need to follow to get assistance.
During a Thursday, June 24, video discussion surrounding tenants’ rights and the extension of the eviction moratorium through July 31, attorneys with Nevada Legal Services noted that the action gives renters additional time to receive rental assistance, but that this is likely the last time the federal government will extend the moratorium initially put in place last year. The federal announcement follows the expiration of the state moratorium at the end of May.
“There’s so much rent assistance under the American Rescue Plan here in Nevada, and it just hasn’t been disbursed yet, so I think the feelings of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is let’s give another 30 days for that rent assistance to go out and help people who haven’t paid the rent,” said David Olshan, co-director of litigation for Nevada Legal Services, a statewide nonprofit organization providing free legal services to low-income Nevadans.
Research from left-leaning think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that about 14 percent of Nevada renters, or roughly 128,000 residents, are not caught up on rent.
The eviction moratorium enacted by the CDC applies across the country, but its constitutional standing remains in question as a case is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court following an appeal of a federal district court ruling that the CDC does not have the authority to order a national eviction ban.
Tenants’ rights advocates have also raised concerns that some Nevada courts are interpreting the CDC moratorium as not applicable to “no cause” evictions — evictions stemming not from a breach of contract but for any reason the landlord wants if there is not an active lease agreement — which jeopardizes renters’ housing situations.
In some recent eviction cases, attorneys with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada have filed briefs arguing that no cause evictions are protected under the eviction moratorium.
Rhea Gertken, co-director of litigation for Nevada Legal Services, said during the video discussion that the protections seem clear to her.
“Where the tenant has experienced the loss of income and can positively affirm and attest to everything that’s on the CDC declaration, you should be covered from a no-cause notice,” Gertken said.
Though Nevada has received hundreds of millions of dollars in rental assistance, the money has been slow to dispense. So far, the state has received $380 million in federal rental assistance and about $145 million of it has been distributed as of the end of May, Nevada Housing Division Administrator Steve Aichroth reported to the legislative Interim Finance Committee on Tuesday.
In a statement released Thursday, the Nevada State Apartment Association noted that the slow rollout of rental assistance has left many landlords with “insurmountable” debt and that the extension of the moratorium jeopardizes the ability of rental home property owners to provide safe, affordable housing.
“The industry has been left to foot the bill for rental arrears for more than a year now – and as a small profit margin industry, many rental housing providers won’t be able to hold on much longer,” Apartment Association Executive Director Susy Vasquez said in the statement. “Eviction is always a measure of last resort – the industry is in the business of housing people, and trying to find another tenant means additional lost rent and more hassle for rental housing providers.”
Gertken said that as long as residents have applied for rental assistance, they should be protected from eviction thanks to the passage of AB486, a bill approved by Nevada lawmakers last month and aimed at ensuring people are not evicted because of backlogs in aid disbursement.
Under the measure, tenants cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent as long as a tenant is actively pursuing rental assistance, a landlord is not cooperating with the rental assistance process or a landlord has refused to accept rental assistance.
The measure also establishes a process whereby tenants can allege wrongful eviction if the landlord accepted rental assistance from the government but evicted the tenant anyway.
“I think the goal here is landlords shouldn’t be complaining about the moratoriums if they’re refusing to accept assistance,” Gertken said. “So this is a way to essentially punish bad actors and disingenuous landlords that take rental assistance.”
Though the moratorium is still in place, Olshan said that being proactive and not reactive is essential.
“I think the cautionary tale, the one lesson we can learn is: don’t do things at the last minute,” Olshan said.
Tabitha Mueller is a general assignment reporter at The Nevada Independent, a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization. The following people or entities mentioned in this article are financial supporters of The Indy: David Olshan – $180.00; Nevada State Apartment Association – $1,200.00. This story was first published June 25 and is republished here with permission. For more Nevada news, visit The Nevada Independent.