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EDITORIAL: Road to high rents is paved with good intentions

You don’t help renters in the long run by targeting landlords. But that’s exactly what Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones is proposing to do.

Nevada is weeks away from an eviction crisis. The coronavirus shutdown has left the Silver State with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

If you don’t have a job and are no longer receiving enhanced federal unemployment benefits, it’s hard to pay the rent. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s ban on residential evictions based on lack of payment ends in September. As of the end of July, Stout Risius Ross, a consulting firm, estimates 47 percent of Nevada renters are unable to pay rent and are at risk of being evicted. That’s the equivalent of 147,000 households.

Enter Mr. Jones. He wants to make it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to someone based on their income source or whether they were evicted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He labels this discrimination. It’s actually common sense.

This may come as a surprise to many on the left, but the reason landlords rent out property is to collect rent. That’s their reward for the headaches that come with maintaining and paying for a property they don’t live in. What right does the government have to tell landlords that they must open their properties to people who can’t pay the rent? That’s theft masquerading as compassion.

It would also be counterproductive in the long run, particularly for renters. Demands that property owners lease to those who don’t have the ability to pay distort the marketplace in a number of ways, all of which make it more difficult for those looking to lease.

If landlords aren’t collecting rent, for instance, they will cut back in other areas, including upkeep and maintenance. That was the result of rent control policies in places such as New York City and Boston. Allowing properties to become dilapidated doesn’t help renters. It also lowers property values, which lowers tax collections.

This policy also sends the wrong signal to builders. If you can’t get your money back from renters, it makes no sense to invest millions in new apartment buildings or rental homes. If the supply isn’t growing fast enough to meet demand, rents will increase. Property owners will also want to be compensated for the increased risk they’re taking. This policy would lead to larger security deposits.

There are national, state and local programs designed to help distressed workers with rental assistance. Most landlords are also eager to work with tenants — constant turnover is expensive. But Mr. Jones’ proposal is overkill. After all, the road to high rents is paved with good intentions.

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