Eviction bill intended to ease expected deluge of evictions on courts, prevent homelessness

In April of this year, more than 400,000 Nevadans were out of work. On June 25, Governor Steve Sisolak signed Emergency Directive 25, an emergency order that prevented the  summary evictions of COVID-related commercial or residential renters until July 31 of this year.

The last day of July also marked the end of a $600 a-week federal supplement to unemployment benefits.

Even though the number of unemployed in Nevada dropped to 224,673 by June, when presenting Senate Bill 1 to the Nevada Senate on July 31, Nevada Supreme Court Justice James W. Hardesty cited some alarming estimates. The judge spoke as co-chair of Nevada Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. The objective of the Commission is to assess citizens’ ability to access the court system on a variety of issues.

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graph, the Ally
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graph, the Ally

Five weeks ago the Commission began a review of the status of evictions in Nevada and the potential impact on courts.

Hardesty told Senate lawmakers that the State Treasurer’s Office has indicated that as many as 130,000 people could be evicted in Nevada over coming months for lack of payment.

The Guinn Center estimates as many as 142,000 households in Nevada will be affected by eviction pressures in coming days.

For context, according to the Nevada Supreme Court’s annual report for 2019, 45,805 summary evictions occurred in Nevada. Roughly 87 percent of those happened in Clark County, 42,501 cases. According to the report, there were 3,304 evictions in Washoe County over the same period.

The Summary Eviction Process

The process begins with a notice from the landlord to the tenant of their intention to reclaim the property. The tenant has 7 days to file a response in the justice court in the township in which the property is located. Once that occurs, the landlord files a complaint seeking access to the property.

The court then sets a hearing on these pleadings. State law mandates no timeline for the process of a summary eviction. The problem, according to Hardesty, will be the gargantuan administrative impact of more than 100,000 summary evictions on the state’s court systems.

“It is entirely possible with these types of numbers, court settings could go out weeks or months before the dispute could be addressed,” Hardesty told Senators.

Hardesty said he and the Access to Justice Commission looked at the actions of other states when faced with an avalanche of summary evictions. Many states, according to Hardesty, have established Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms to make a plan to pay rent and ideally prevent a a person or family from losing their housing.

“So, in many of these states, the purpose is to try to connect and first inform tenants of the availability of rent relief and connect landlords and tenants in a process that would allow them to address the payment of their rent obligations,” Hardesty explained.

A 30-Day Stay

SB1 enables a judge to impose a 30-day stay on an eviction.

“First of all, it’s conditional,” Hardesty told Senators. “If the Supreme Court or a district court or a justice court establishes by rule an expedited program of alternate dispute resolution concerning an eviction, then the statute would allow that court to stay, for a period of not more than 30 days, the eviction hearing process in order to facilitate the Alternative Dispute Resolution program.”

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, it is estimated that over 97,000 renter households in Nevada are in low income brackets. Eighty-one percent of them are “severely cost burdened” due to rent.

During hearings on SB1 in the Senate and Assembly, public comment was extensive. Erika Minaberry spoke to Senators via phone on July 31 and shared a glimpse into the hard economic reality many Nevadans face.

“I am calling as a representative for my three children who I actually just got custody back from them a little over a year ago because I was heavily affected by the housing crisis and had to relinquish custody of them,” Minaberry said. “And now I’ve been laid off from my job and the unemployment money has run out, as you all know, at the same time that school is starting, and at the same time that the eviction moratorium is being lifted.

“So for people like myself that have been struggling, and I’ve just barely made it above water, if there is an eviction moratorium lifted, I will be pushed back down under the water and I don’t know how I will make it, especially considering that there is no place for homeless people to safely live in a pandemic.”

The Nevada Realtors Association testified in neutral on the bill. Several offered public comment in opposition. Edward Kania is president of Southern Nevada Eviction Services.

“Landlords have been denied access to the courts for six months,” Kania said to Senators by phone. “And this proposal will delay that access further. Landlords have been economically suffering during the past six months, despite the fact that they’ve been providing essential services during that whole time. They simply cannot continue to provide free housing. Parties currently can request voluntary mediation in Justice Court, if they believe that they can craft a solution. Mandatory mediation is not necessary, and placing an additional step in the eviction process is unfair to landlords and will impact further investment in Nevada.”

A stay on evictions and mandatory mediation program will not prevent every eviction, but Justice Hardesty said, mediation is often successful.

“We think there’s lots of opportunities here. One is, of course, to connect landlords and tenants and perhaps mitigate the tenant issues to inform tenants about the availability of rent relief dollars, maybe even to help resolve some other disputes if in fact those surface. Mediation, as many of you know, is frequently successful. Most cases in the system eventually settle and many of those settle as a result of the input or the assistance of a mediation program or a mediator.”

SB1 passed the Senate on August 3 on an 18 to 3 vote. The bill passed the Assembly on August 3 by a 38 to 4 margin. The bill has been enrolled and awaits the Governor’s consideration.

Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and a career public media reporter. Support his work.

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