As Nevada’s eviction moratorium is set to expire Oct. 15, new landlord-tenant mediation programs in Reno and Sparks are aimed at avoiding evictions before disputes get to court.
The Reno City Council has earmarked funds to set up its program. Sparks’ mediation effort, paid for with $85,000 from COVID-19 relief allocations, already is underway.
“We’re starting to gain some traction; word is getting out into the community,” said T Tran, a real estate broker and consultant who is overseeing the Sparks’ effort. “… We want to get the word out about how we can help the landlords and the tenants get through this. We encourage them to enter into mediation before the eviction process is started.” It’s a proactive approach, she said, that will save time and the expenses of a court action.
The Northern Nevada COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Program is inviting tenants and landlords to participate and can be reached online or by calling (775) 451-2114.
Nevada anticipates surge in evictions
A flood of eviction actions is expected when the moratorium ends. In the last fiscal year, 45,805 summary evictions occurred in Nevada, 85 percent (42,501 cases) in Clark County. Washoe County reported 3,304 evictions in 2019. Those totals may increase three-fold this year, officials said.
The Nevada Treasurer’s Office estimates that as many as 130,000 people could be evicted in Nevada for non-payment of rent. The Guinn Center, a bi-partisan think tank in Las Vegas, estimates as many as 142,000 Nevada households could soon be at risk of eviction.
According to the Nevada State Apartment Association, about half of Clark County tenants who have fallen behind in their rent during the pandemic have made payment arrangements with their landlords. In Washoe County, the association reported, just 35% have done so.
Tenants wary of payment agreements
Tran said the city mediation programs are aimed at increasing that percentage and heading off eviction actions before they are filed in court. She said when landlords or property managers approach tenants about payment agreements, trust issues arise.
“Those documents are drawn up by the property management’s attorneys,” she said. “The tenants are wary about signing something that’s been drawn up by what they may consider to be opposing counsel. We don’t have a vested stake in the tenants’ property; we’re a neutral party. So right now I’m trying to bridge that gap of communication between the landlords and tenants.”
Part of her job is to help make tenants aware of the resources available that may help them. “Once tenants realize I’m not trying to entrap them in some weird way, they are a lot more open to (agreements). I want to be the advocate for both, truly… Both the tenants and the landlords, who also have bills to meet, are in a tough spot. I get it.”
In mediation, tenants and landlords complete questionnaires, which are reviewed by mediators. Then, Tran said, after verifying that a hardship situation exists, “we do what we can to connect (tenants) to resources that they may not even know are there. Or if they do know aid is out there, they may just assume they don’t qualify for a variety of reasons.”
Getting landlords and tenants to the table
The next step is to craft a payment arrangement that makes sense for both parties. The tenants should be agreeing to conditions that are within their means and the landlords need to be fairly compensated for the use of their properties.
“We (recently) did a mediation that had a very happy ending,” Tran said. “The tenant cried afterwards because she was grateful that there was someone who could help her navigate the process. And, thankfully, she had a really receptive landlord.”
The Nevada Supreme Court, meanwhile, has posted the proposed rules for the state eviction mediation process on its website. The court is expected to rule on the regulations later this month. Unlike Sparks’ proactive process, the state mediation system would become available after an eviction action is filed in court.
State mediation plan nearing court’s approval
Brad Lewis, director at Nevada Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission has been working on the state rules since the Legislature approved the plan in a special session earlier this year. He said his team has been ironing out program details, getting interested mediators on board, and will host two training webinars for the mediators.
“We’re zipping right along,” he said. “When the program is approved we’ll be ready.”
Although the state’s eviction moratorium is set to expire Oct. 15, a Centers for Disease Control eviction moratorium that applies nationally is in effect until Dec. 31. Under that order, renters must: submit a declaration to their landlord showing they asked for government rental assistance; document that they have attempted to make partial rent payment and would likely become homeless if evicted. Those tenants will have to attest they were unable to pay rent because of unemployment or other income issues.
On Sept. 18, the National Apartment Association filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the CDC’s order.