Eviction moratorium extension raises questions with landlords

Nevada State Apartment Association miffed at being excluded from drafting of emergency directive 031

Yesterday, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed Emergency Directive 031 that extends the moratorium on certain residential evictions for 45 days, through October 14, 2020.

In April of this year, more than 400,000 Nevadans were out of work. On June 25, Governor 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.

On July 31, the Governor issued an executive order extending all emergency orders that would have ended on the last day of July until September 1.

July 31 also marked the end of a $600 a-week federal supplement to unemployment benefits.

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 evictions happened in Clark County, 42,501 cases. According to the report, Washoe County had 3,304 evictions over the same period.

The impact on Nevada’s court systems could be significant.

Senate Bill 1 passed a special session of the Nevada Legislature at the end of July. The measure establishes a mediation program intended to prevent the state’s court systems from being overrun with summary eviction cases. The system is being developed and is expected to be operating by the end of October.

Following the announcement of Emergency Directive 031, the Nevada State Apartment Association (NVSAA) issued a statement expressing concern that the Governor did not consult them when deciding to extend the moratorium.

The NVSAA represents more than 140,000 rental units across the state. NVSAA members represent all aspects of the multifamily housing industry from apartment owners and management executives to developers, builders, investors and property managers. Susy Vasquez is NVSAA director.

“We’ve been pretty clear in numerous conversations that we’ve had with government agencies, not necessarily the governor’s office because we haven’t spoken directly to that office, in our desire for the Governor to not continue to protect those that have the means to pay rent and are refusing to do so.

“Is it common practice? No. Is it just a small number of the population? Yes. But are they occupying units that can be used by others that could potentially fit their budget better? Absolutely.

“So we have a person that’s not paying rent occupying a unit and there may be another family or person that is looking to get roommates and needs a larger apartment or needs to downsize to a smaller apartment, and these units just aren’t available,” said Vasquez in a phone interview. “Our occupancy rate is higher than it has ever been, so units right now are in high demand.”

According to Governor Sisolak, he extended the moratorium on residential evictions to provide greater housing stability so that people can remain in their homes as the state continues to fight and recover from both the health and economic ramifications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As I have done previously, this extension is intended to keep people in their homes while we are still battling this pandemic,” said Governor Sisolak in a live online address on August 31. “I am confident that this 45-day extension will allow the various agencies and organizations more time to get these programs up and running and help Nevada’s renters and landlords continue to navigate these unprecedented times and stay healthy and safe in the midst of this pandemic.”

Vasquez does not necessarily oppose the moratorium extension but does have a concern with not being included on a decision that so profoundly affects NVSAA members. The Governor’s office did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

“We understand the governor’s intent,” Vasquez said regarding the governor’s stated intent. “By all means we’re not in the business of evicting people. We manage occupied units, so we can’t manage an empty apartment complex. Right? So our goal has always been and will continue to be to maintain housing for Nevadans.

“We understand his intent. Again, I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have extended it. I think that we should have had more opportunity to discuss that prior to him making that decision. So then maybe he’d be able to make a more well-rounded decision.”

Members of the NVSAA range from large property owners and managers to mom-and-pop landlords. Many property owners rely on the rent payments for essential income or to service debt on the property or both.

“It’s impacting the small landlords more than the larger ones … mom-and-pop landlords that have one or two units. If you know when a unit isn’t paying rent, then you can’t really look to the second unit to carry the first unit. Right? So really small landlords are the ones that are being impacted, more so than the larger ones,” Vasquez said.

Despite the Guinn report estimate that 140,000 families could be impacted by eviction proceedings, Vasquez said the association does not expect that large a number of summary evictions.

“We’ve provided some data to show that there isn’t necessarily a wave of evictions coming. In September, I think we were more focused on evicting those that were occupying a unit and not paying rent and not communicating with us. We have a pretty good amount of people that just haven’t communicated. We’re not making the assumption that they’re not able to pay, they just haven’t told us why they’re not paying. So those are the people that we really were going to be looking to evicting.

“But many of our residents, almost 60 percent of our residents have entered into payment arrangements. So we’re working with them in spreading out their rent that they’ve missed over a period of time in order to be able to keep them as residents.”

The Governors latest extension is clear that the eviction moratorium does not excuse a renter from paying rent.

According to Vasquez, neither renter nor landlord want an eviction proceeding. Her hope is that the economy will recover sooner than later. Without an economic rebound, Vasquez said, evictions are inevitable.

“I know that the state is working really hard. And also local municipalities are working really hard to get rent assistance out and expediting and being as efficient as possible and finding inefficiencies within their program to get rent assistance out.

“Unfortunately, it’s not enough. There is going to come a time … and we hope that, you know, things start reopening.

“I know that most municipalities have been doing a really great job, and businesses have been doing a good job at complying with the safety protocols that have been put in place. So we’re hoping that Nevada starts heading towards the new normal and opening back up and putting people back to work because that certainly would solve a lot of problems. If we were able to start opening up different industries within the state. That would help immensely.”

Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his work here.

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