Like the rest of the country, Nevada is seeing a record-breaking spike in unemployment claims. In response, Governor Steve Sisolak placed a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. KUNR’s Paul Boger reached out to Rita Greggio, a lawyer with Washoe Legal Services, a nonprofit legal aid organization, to talk about what the governor’s directive means.
Boger: Rita, could you first break down the governor's order?
Greggio: I think what it's trying to accomplish is something that I think we universally agree as a good thing, right? Keeping people housed during this pandemic. Obviously, we've all been told to stay home. If we're getting evicted, whether it's because we can't pay the rent or whether it's simply because our lease is up and the landlord wants us out, this doesn't seem the best time to allow people to be put out of their homes, if we do in fact want to flatten the curve and keep the population healthy.
Boger: So is this an outright moratorium on all evictions?
Greggio: The directive is pretty specific in stating that there is an exception to the no eviction or foreclosure rule, which has to do with tenants that pose a danger either to the health and safety of other tenants, or tenants who are causing substantial property damage. So there is kind of a fairly narrow exception there. The directive is clear that no-cause evictions, evictions for nonpayment of rent, even lease violation, are not going to be heard by the courts at this time. And that landlords are prohibited from serving eviction notices.
Boger: Does the directive cover people living in motels or weeklies?
Greggio: So the rule is that if someone lives in a hotel or a motel for 30 consecutive days or more, or if they manifest an intent to become a long-term resident, then they're protected under landlord-tenant laws. I do believe that people in weeklies are covered by the directive. The hotel-motel question, it's kind of a nuanced one, but if you're really a long-term resident at a hotel or a motel, then you should be covered.
Boger: So at this point, are you still hearing complaints from tenants?
Greggio: Already we're getting reports of tenants that are being threatened by their landlord. We had a case of a tenant who told us that their property manager texted everyone and said that rent is due on the first and that if it's not paid on the first, that they're going to be charged the late fee. And if they don't pay the rent and the late fee ... that they will be evicted. So I think as legal aid providers, the focus for us right now is to get this information to tenants, so that they do know their rights. And so that if they are being threatened in any way, they know to reach out to us, meaning legal aid providers in town. They can also reach out to the attorney general's office because, again, it is very clear as to what landlords can and cannot do.
We've [also] started seeing landlords saying, 'Oh no, I can't come into your unit to fix your leaky faucet because of COVID-19.' Again, the governor's directive is very clear and stating that [it] doesn't mean that landlords, if they're contractually obligated to repair things in a tenant's unit, this doesn't mean that they're relieved of that obligation. Just like tenants aren't relieved of the obligation to pay rent. Right? So rent is still due and if you can pay it, you must pay it. But if you can't pay it because you absolutely don't have a job, you won't get evicted while the directive is in place.
Boger: Rita, at the end of all this, what mechanism is there in place to prevent mass evictions? I mean, is that a concern of yours at all, right now?
Greggio: As legal aid practitioners, we're trying to take things one step at a time, but that is our next concern. What is the plan from the courts to deal with the backlog, if you will? I mean, certainly, there will be people who can't pay their rent. There will be people who the landlords before this would have had the right to evict.