Special Session Grapples With Looming Wave Of Evictions
Lawmakers approved a bill Monday night that would pause eviction proceedings for 30 days, so tenants and landlords have the chance to settle out of court.
Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty told legislators that Senate Bill 1 would also give renters extra time to apply for government assistance so they can keep a roof over their heads.
Christopher Storke is an attorney with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. He said the bill will allow the courts to establish - by rule - an Alternative Dispute Program.
“Effectively, that is going to allow the tenant, at the very least, to be able to negotiate with the landlord and to be able to come to some sort of agreement - even if they may not come to an agreement with regards to the payment of rent, there may be an amicable solution that may arise from the Alternative Dispute Program to facilitate an agreement between landlord and tenant,” Storke said.
Storke said he's already seen a slight rise in the number of calls to his office about evictions. On August 1, landlords could once again start evicting people for nuisance notices and lease violations.
But Storke pointed out many of those evictions are under investigation to make sure the landlord wasn't trying to evict someone for non-payment of rent under the guise of another reason.
With so many people at risk, the state has created a rental assistance program. The State Treasurer's office is managing the program.
“The goal here for the program is to take a first shot at starting the catch up from the beginnings of the pandemic. The program is really focused on rent that has become due and hasn’t been paid since March,” said State Treasurer Zach Conine.
Conine admits that the $30 million contributed by the state and the $20 million by Clark County won't completely address the massive need for help but he believes it is a step.
There are eligibility rules for applicants. They must have an active lease in Nevada, be behind in rent, and prove financial hardship due to COVID-19. Plus, there are salary and liquid asset restrictions.
“The goal here is for this to go to the individuals who need it the most, who have tapped out other resources,” Conine said.
Once a family has applied and is approved, the money will be sent directly to the landlord - not to the tenant. However, the landlord can help a tenant apply for the assistance.
“We do think during this process, especially during the pandemic, there is nothing more important than communication between the landlord and the tenant,” Conine said.
The treasurer said during these difficult times people are trying to help each other out.
“We’re finding that most Nevada’s are being humans about this and are willing to work together to find a solution,” he said.
Another program designed to help people during a time of need has been plagued with problems. Nevada's unemployment insurance system has become so backlogged that months into the pandemic and many people are yet to see their first check.
Conine said his agency has worked to create "multiple points of success" instead of a "single point of failure." The agency has enlisted the help of 15 different non-profits and local agencies around the state to process applications and distribute the funds.
“Funds have already started going out from the program. We received a few more than 8,000 applications as of last Friday,” he said.
There are applications in the queue but Conine said funds are going out the door already.
“So, we feel good that the program seems to be successful on one of its main goals, which was quickly and efficiently get dollars out,” he said.
Exactly how long the money that has been allotted to the program will last depends on how the amount of money people need to pay their rent and how many people apply, Conine said. Those numbers are not available yet but the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Nevada is $1,200 a month.
Storke is advising his clients to apply for rental assistance and to keep applying if they are turned down by one organization.
"If you applied to one organization and you are unable to receive any funds, it is important to keep trying and look for various organizations," he said, "If you've previously applied to an organization that you've had success with, then it would be best to begin your journey there."
Christopher Storke, Attorney, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada; Zach Conine, Nevada State Treasurer