73°F
weather icon Clear

New federal order expands eviction moratorium

Updated September 11, 2020 - 8:23 am

Landlords are waiting until Gov. Steve Sisolak’s eviction moratorium lifts Oct. 15 to send eviction notices to tenants who haven’t paid rent.

But the flood of notices anticipated on the doors of struggling renters next month might be slowed, or stopped, by a new federal order.

The order gives Nevada renters additional relief that extends beyond Sisolak’s latest moratorium on evictions for nonpayment and protects more Nevadans, such as those facing no-cause evictions. But there’s one catch — tenants have to opt in.

The order was issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and stops most residential evictions until Dec. 31.

“Everyone is still trying to wrap their minds around it and understand what it does and doesn’t do. It just became effective on Sept. 4, and then we had the holiday weekend,” said Morgan Shah, an attorney with nonprofit Nevada Legal Services.

Helping hand

An estimated 249,700 Clark County residents, or more than 10 percent of its population, are at risk of eviction, according to a report by Las Vegas research group Guinn Center and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project in Denver.

In March, Sisolak announced a temporary halt to residential evictions as part of a multi-pronged plan to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

State protections for renters have slowly lifted since, with the latest directive protecting only those at risk of being evicted for nonpayment. This eviction moratorium was initially set to expire Sept. 1, but in a last-minute announcement, Sisolak extended the moratorium by 45 days, or until Oct. 15.

Less than 24 hours later, the CDC announced it would halt residential evictions nationwide starting Sept. 4 through the end of this year, adding that “COVID-19 presents a historic threat to public health.”

The move prevents Nevada landlords from serving any kind of eviction notice to a tenant, unless they fall into five types of eviction categories, including engaging in criminal activity while on the premises, damaging property or threatening the health or safety of another resident.

“Evictions for any reason beyond the five allowed in the CDC Order are prohibited, including evictions for nonpayment of rent, evictions resulting from the expiration of the tenant’s lease, ‘no-cause’ evictions, and evictions of tenants-at-will,” according to Home Means Nevada Inc.

‘Blindsided’

Landlords have expressed frustration with Sisolak’s eviction reprieve. The Guinn Center estimated Nevada’s rental debt could reach $1.1 billion by December.

The new federal order presents an additional challenge for landlords.

Nevada State Apartment Association Executive Director Susy Vasquez said the order is being evaluated by its parent association, the National Apartment Association, and the Nevada attorney general’s office.

“The order blindsided everyone,” Vasquez said in a statement. “For the CDC to ask a nation and an industry already dealing with a wide range of different local and state eviction laws to conform to one suddenly announced rule is irresponsible and shortsighted. It’s going to get worse before it gets better as lawmakers and judges begin to interpret the order in a thousand different ways.”

A spokeswoman for Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said whether the CDC order or the governor’s directive applies to a Nevada tenant depends on an individual’s circumstances, such as the type of property at issue or the reason a landlord is seeking eviction.

“Ultimately every landlord seeking the eviction of a tenant will have to appear before the local Court and the judge in that proceeding must evaluate whether the CDC Order or the Governor’s Directive applies to that particular case,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Monica Moazez said in an email.

Bailey Bortolin, statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said the CDC’s order essentially fills in the gaps of Sisolak’s moratorium.

“There are other ways you can be evicted,” she said. “So where landlords may have seen Gov. Sisolak’s and thought, ‘OK, now I can move forward with these other types of evictions’ … the CDC order came out a few hours later and actually covered more types of evictions so they are currently both in effect at the same time.”

Declaration required

Though more renters are protected under the CDC’s order, Bortolin said, the downside is tenants are responsible for ensuring they qualify and notifying their landlord.

“You have to be aware of it,” Bortolin said. “The tenant needs to fill out a declaration available on the CDC’s website and fill out the declaration under perjury and give it to their landlord. The landlord is to cease all actions unless the tenant falls under one of those five categories (such as) engaging in criminal activity.”

According to the CDC, tenants are eligible if:

— They have used their best effort to obtain all available government aid for rent or housing.

— They either expect to earn no more than $99,000 during 2020, were not required to report income to the IRS in 2019 or received a stimulus check under the federal CARES Act.

— They are unable to pay the full rent because of substantial loss of household income, reduction in wages or hours, layoffs or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.

— They are making a best effort to make partial payments of rent as close to full payment as their circumstances permit.

— They probably would be rendered homeless or forced to move and live in close quarters in a shared living setting if evicted.

Shah, of Nevada Legal Services, added that tenants living in extended-stay motels are entitled to the same legal protections under the CDC and Sisolak’s order if “they’ve lived there for at least 30 days or manifested an intent to remain in the unit.”

Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada Inc. Attorney Christopher Storke said it can be difficult for tenants to navigate the process, but resources are available.

“We have declarations available for tenants to fill out, and (we’re) in the process of working out a more streamlined way to be able to get these declarations into the hands of tenants,” he said. “It’s a great step forward (for the CDC) because it will fill in the gaps of other moratoriums that have either expired or do not provide the same protections.”

Paper trail

Both Bortolin and Shah expressed concern over what they called a lack of oversight in ensuring the CDC order is followed because the burden falls on the tenant. And there is no official registry tracking if or when a tenant submits a declaration to his or her landlord.

“There’s not a gatekeeper saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got this notice on your door, but, just so you know, you may be eligible for this federal protection,’ ” Bortolin said.

Shah suggests tenants who submit a declaration to their landlord do so through email or certified mail so they have a paper trail showing they’ve submitted the paperwork to their landlord.

“Obviously the landlord isn’t going to volunteer this information,” Shah said. “It’s really a matter of educating the public as quickly as possible, but people are scared. If their landlord tells them, ‘Oh that doesn’t apply to you’ or ‘You’ve got to get out’ or ‘I don’t care what (the order) said,’ — they think they’ll have to go.”

Landlords who fail to comply with the CDC order risk being fined up to $100,000 and receiving a one-year jail sentence. If the violation results in a death, the fine could be up to $250,000 and a one-year jail sentence, “or as otherwise provided by law,” the order said.

The Nevada Attorney General’s office will be enforcing the order.

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Comedian Andrew Dice Clay puts Vegas home on market

Comedian and actor Andrew Dice Clay calls it his “lucky house” for his career — an appropriate place to call home for the last 19 years in a gambling mecca like Las Vegas — and where he’s entertained celebrities and fellow comedians over the years.