UPDATE: Hours after this story was posted, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that he is ordering a new moratorium on evictions through the end of March. That delays, but doesn't solve, the problems described in the following story. By March, the flood of pent-up eviction actions will be much greater.
Thousands of Nevada renters face eviction in January, and will be left without a roof over their heads in the middle of winter in the midst of a global pandemic. Many will have nowhere to go.
“We know we’re up against an impossible situation come Jan. 1,” said Bailey Bortolin, policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers. “We are seeing just the beginning of what that will look like and what that could mean for our community in the Las Vegas Justice Court right now.”
Some renters recently evicted in Las Vegas, where filings have soared 150% after a state moratorium ended Oct. 15, told the court that they will wind up living in their cars. Many of those Clark County orders to vacate rental properties took place in defiance of a federal eviction moratorium and despite Nevada’s existing rent assistance fund and mediation programs.
It’s about to get exponentially worse; the eviction floodgates will open wide on Jan. 1, when all three safety nets are scheduled to unravel.
Programs expire Dec. 31
“If the three layers of protection that we have scrambled to put in place throughout the pandemic are all removed at once, the rug is going to be pulled out from under our feet,” Bortolin said. “We are just facing mass homelessness with nowhere to send anyone. Shelters are full, service providers are inundated, and no one can tell anyone where they can sleep tonight.”
The relief programs had mixed results, according to advocates who assisted both landlords and tenants. It took several weeks to roll out the state mediation program, paperwork for the rent relief payments was complicated, and some landlords refused to cooperate with the mitigation efforts.
“Both (rental relief and mediation) programs have definitely helped tenants and landlords. I have heard stories of landlords more than happy to take the rental assistance and proactively worked out payment plans with tenants. I have also heard absolute horror stories of tenants being evicted and the behavior of landlords that I can only describe as evil… The lengths that some have gone to evict tenants during a pandemic is astounding.”— J.D. Klippenstein, executive director of ACTIONN, a Reno social justice organization.
The worst is yet to come
At the end of December, federal rental assistance money dries up, the Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium will expire, and funding for the state’s mediation program evaporates. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits will end Dec. 26. As of Dec. 12, Nevada ranked eighth among states in COVID-19 cases.
Recent national studies and statistics put the Nevada close to the top of lists of states about to be hardest hit by the economic disaster kicked off by the pandemic.
That data indicate:
- Nearly half of Nevadans surveyed recently by the U.S. Census Bureau say they are behind on rent or mortgage payments. Those households in arrears could potentially face eviction or foreclosure by January. Nevada’s percentage of people at risk for eviction is the third highest in the nation, according to the Census study.
- Another analysis, by AdvisorSmith, using the latest Census data as a starting point and factoring in other variables, ranks Nevada 15th in the U.S. for renters anticipating eviction within the next two months. The report concluded that among all rental households in Nevada, 10.2% were at risk of eviction in the next two months as compared with 8.4% of rental households nationwide who are at risk of eviction. That analysis indicated that of the Nevada rental households behind on their rent payments, 65.8% were at risk of eviction by February, as compared with 49.1% of households in the same situation nationally.
- Nevada’s COVID-19 cases from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10 averaged 2,723 new cases per day, more than double the previous record of 1,176 set during the summer. In mid-September, the daily average was 267 cases. Analysts for the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force said there is no sign that the case rate is approaching a plateau.
- Nationwide, more than 433,700 additional COVID-19 cases and about 10,700 deaths came after 43 state-level eviction moratoriums expired at the end of the summer, according to research released Dec. 7. The study is based on research led by Kathryn Leifheit, an epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Fielding School of Public Health.
Evictions boost virus’ spread
“Lifting eviction moratoriums was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence and mortality in U.S. states, supporting the public health rationale for use of eviction moratoriums to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the UCLA researchers concluded. “… Effects grew over time, perhaps due to mounting displacement, crowding, and/or homelessness as evictions proceeded. ”
Taken together, the data indicate that when the eviction moratorium expires, a new wave of homelessness will increase COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Silver State.
Clark County evictions soar
From Oct. 1 to the end of November, there were more than 5,500 eviction actions filed in Las Vegas Justice Court. Of those, about 2,500 resulted in evictions being granted.
The situation was less dire in Reno.From Oct. 15 to Dec. 11, there have been 674 new eviction cases filed in Reno Justice Court as compared to 283 cases filed during the same period last year. That doesn’t mean that 674 evictions were granted, because many of those cases may still be pending a hearing, or have been voluntarily dropped by the landlords, or may have been stayed or dismissed under the CDC moratorium. Some may have been referred to the Nevada eviction mediation program.
Reno evictions steady
“The (year-to-year) increase is a bit deceptive in that landlords were prohibited from initiating new eviction cases for several months in 2020 (due to the state moratorium),” said James Conway, Reno Justice Court administrator. “Many eviction cases that likely would have been spread out over several months were likely concentrated into the past two months.
In 2019, a total of 1,786 eviction cases were filed in Reno. To date, 1,219 eviction cases have been filed, more than half of those hitting the docket within the last two months. The total number of evictions in 2020 will most likely be less than the number of cases in 2019. Next month, though, officials expect a wave of eviction actions.
“It’s all going to converge on Jan. 1,” Greggio said. “We are going to see a huge number of evictions.”
Programs had mixed results
Beginning in the early days of the pandemic, state officials and housing advocates saw the housing crisis coming. Gov. Steve Sisolak imposed an eviction moratorium, which expired Oct. 15. Federal pandemic relief funds were tapped for the state’s rental assistance programs. Nevada lawmakers also approved a mediation program designed for landlords and tenants to come to agreements to avoid evictions or for tenants to quit properties without harming their credit records.
The programs that were quickly cobbled together had some success, but in some jurisdictions they fell short of blunting the impact of the eviction epidemic.
“The mediation program is a fantastic idea and a great program,” said Rita Greggio, director of Washoe County Legal Services. “From our experience it wasn’t that helpful simply because of the time it took to get it implemented.” She’s heard of one case in Reno that was a successful mediation and two that are pending.
Half of mediations successful
As of mid-November, 483 eviction cases had been assigned to mediators in the state program. Of those cases, 382 were in Clark County, 27 were in Washoe and 24 came from the rest of the state.
Updated numbers for the program weren’t immediately available, but in Southern Nevada officials said about half of the cases mediated had successful outcomes. Those include situations where tenants received rental assistance and agreed to pay full rent going forward, arrangements for paying back rent in installments or tenants surrendering door keys and vacating the premises without any official eviction action.
The program in Sparks, which operated independently of the state’s mediation effort, reported excellent results.
Sparks effort met goal
T. Tran, a real estate broker and consultant who oversaw the Sparks’ mediation effort, said the program reached its goal.
“We mediated a total of 51 cases; that’s what our allocation covered,” Tran said. “More than 50% were successful, with the landlords and tenants coming to an agreement on a payment plan, or the landlord getting rental assistance.” She said two tenants surrendered their keys because there was no hope of meeting rent payments in the future.
“But there was no formal eviction,” she said. “So they moved out rather than being locked out and they won’t have an eviction on their records.”
CDC order asserted
Greggio said Washoe Legal Services has been successful in asserting the CDC moratorium, which remained in effect after the state eviction moratorium expired Oct. 15. But she said confusion about the CDC order was a problem for a lot of tenants who thought they were automatically protected by the federal moratorium. “They got an eviction notice and they did nothing,” she said.
When the state moratorium ended in October, her office’s eviction-related caseload went from about 50 cases a week to about 200 a week. Renters can still be protected under the CDC order, Greggio said, but they have to contact the court and the protection lasts only until Dec. 31.
After that, it’s open season for evictions. “We expect the need is going to be even greater in January,” she said. “We’re trying to gear up for that.”
Of 111 eviction cases filed in Sparks for non-payment of rent between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19, just eight tenants relied on the CDC order to avoid getting thrown out of their homes. “People did not know about or didn’t understand the CDC order,” Tran said. “It was a lack of knowledge. The landlords aren’t obligated to make them aware of it.”
Some landlords uncooperative
Some landlords declined to take part in any of the eviction-prevention efforts.
“There have been quite a few landlords who wouldn’t touch the (rental assistance) money,” Greggio said. “It’s a very troubling trend. We actually had more than a few landlords who told (housing assistance) ‘I won’t take your money.’ Some landlords just think they are entitled to get rid of people whenever they want to.” Under the federal relief bill, the rental relief money went directly to the landlords involved and could cover up to three months of rent.
Tran said some landlords who participated in the Sparks mediation program were enthusiastic about the effort, but “we had a few that were totally uncooperative and that was disheartening.” She said those landlords refused both assistance payments and mediation and also filed eviction orders even though their tenants had filed forms under the CDC moratorium.
“That happened because of the upswing in our rental market,” she said. “(Those landlords) are going to continue driving rents up. They rather take a loss now because they hope to make up for it later. Market rents right now are ridiculous.”
Landlords hold the cards
J.D. Klippenstein, executive director of ACTIONN, a faith-based social justice organization, said the state’s efforts in getting tenants help through the mediation and rental assistance programs has been “a mixed bag.”
He said Nevada is the only state with a summary eviction process. Landlords can simply post a notice and evict tenants in seven days if their tenant doesn’t go to court. That means, he said, that tenants shoulder the burden for starting the legal process that could lead to mediation.
“As a result, a lot of tenants end up being evicted, or ‘self-evicting’ without the court knowing and being able to offer alternative mediation,” Klippenstein wrote in an email to the RN&R.
He also predicts a frenzy of evictions in January.
Another moratorium needed
“COVID-19 has revealed how lopsided the power dynamic is between landlords and tenants in our state,” Klippenstein wrote. “Because of the lack of regulation and tenant protections, I believe we have attracted many landlords who see Nevada as an easy market in which to make a profit.”
He said the state and federal protections during the pandemic “really have made a huge difference in ensuring housing security. If and when those are removed there is nothing in place to stop a flood of evictions, a significant rise in homelessness, and an even wider spread of COVID-19.”
The only way to stave off that disaster is for the governor and state attorney General to order another eviction moratorium, he said. “Without that, I am afraid the worst of the pandemic is still ahead of us.”