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Nevada introduces housing bills to limit application fees, background checks on criminal records

A birds-eye view of a table with a calculator, pen, smartphone and miniature house model made of paper.
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Purple Politics Nevada is KUNR’s weekly show about the 2023 Nevada Legislative Session. In this week’s episode, host Lucia Starbuck explores bills to help people find a place to live, including legislation to limit application fees for prospective tenants and background checks for people who have criminal records.

Click here for a transcript of the audio story.


Episode Overview

Earlier this week at the Nevada Legislature, the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance held a tenants’ rights rally. Young community members spoke about the challenges of watching their parents struggle with housing.

Fifteen-year-old Aida Velasquez traveled to Carson City from Las Vegas with her father, Gerardo. He said he’s paid hundreds of dollars in application fees and experienced homelessness while trying to find a place to rent. Aida said housing insecurity made it difficult for her to do school work without Wi-Fi.

“I know that because of application fees, there was a lot of situations that I had to go through at a young age that I shouldn’t have to,” Velasquez said. “It caused my parents’ health problems, such as my mother has really bad panic attacks. My father has high blood pressure; he’s in his 50s.”

Senate Bill 78 would limit application fees to the actual cost of processing an application within reason. The bill also prohibits landlords from accepting and collecting fees for multiple applications for the same unit at once.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Fabian Doñate, said he was asked for $700 in administrative fees when looking for a place to rent in Carson City during the session.

“I found myself in a situation where I was trying to move in to serve my district, to move to the capital as part of my obligation, and unfortunately, I found myself in similar situations that many other families find themselves in,” Doñate said.

Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dina Neal, would prohibit property owners from refusing to rent to someone who has a criminal record.

“The idea is that individuals who have been freed from prison, on parole, on probation, and they’ve served their time, that we’re actually giving them the right to housing,” Neal said. “One of the great stabilizers is housing. It is also a stabilizer to prevent recidivation.”

Neal proposed the legislation during the 2021 legislative session as well, but it was vetoed by then-Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Now, if it passes the state Assembly and Senate, it will need to be signed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo.

“I think that you should never stop fighting for trying to create equity,” Neal said. “I’d rather roll the dice and fight for the bill.”

Listen to this week’s episode of Purple Politics Nevada with Lucia Starbuck to learn more about these bills aimed at getting people into housing in the first place and the pushback they’re receiving.


Transcript

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

LUCIA STARBUCK, HOST: Welcome to Purple Politics Nevada. I’m your host, Lucia Starbuck. The name reflects the fact that Nevada isn’t red or blue — it’s both.

We’re talking about bills to help people find a place to live. Earlier this week, at the Legislature, the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance held a tenants’ rights rally. Young people spoke about the challenges of watching their parents struggle with housing.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS)

STARBUCK: Fifteen-year-old Aida Velasquez traveled from Las Vegas to Carson City with her father, Gerardo. He says he’s paid hundreds of dollars in application fees and experienced homelessness while trying to secure a place to rent. Aida says housing insecurity made it difficult for her to do school work without Wi-Fi.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIDA VELASQUEZ): I know that because of application fees, there was a lot of situations that I had to go through at a young age that I shouldn’t have to, and it caused my parents’ health problems, such as my mother has really bad panic attacks. My father has high blood pressure; he’s in his 50s.

STARBUCK: And that’s where Senate Bill 78 comes in. It would limit application fees to the actual cost of processing an application, but it doesn’t set a dollar amount. The bill also prohibits landlords from accepting and collecting fees for multiple applications for the same unit at once.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Senator Fabian Doñate, says he was asked for $700 in administrative fees when looking for a place to rent in Carson City during the session.

FABIAN DOÑATE: I found myself in a situation where I was trying to move in to serve my district, to move to the capital as part of my obligation, and unfortunately, I found myself in similar situations that many other families find themselves in.

STARBUCK: There is no state law regulating how much a landlord can charge a prospective tenant in application fees. The legislation would also require landlords to disclose all fees a tenant can expect. Opposition says property owners could face increased burdens and potential lawsuits.

DOÑATE: There’s always hesitation from folks who are mom-and-pop landlords. My parents own two homes. And for us, being landlords, I believe, is part of the American Dream. It’s a reflection of our wealth that we have accumulated in this country as immigrants. In general, what this bill accomplishes is strengthens the tenant’s and landlord’s relationship, stop the bad behavior that’s occurring between both sides and really just brings transparency so that we don’t end up in court fighting over he said, she said.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

STARBUCK: I’m Lucia Starbuck, and you’re listening to Purple Politics Nevada. Democratic State Senator Dina Neal also has a bill to help people get into housing.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS)

STARBUCK: Senator Neal, you’re proposing a bill that would help people with arrest or criminal records obtain housing.

DINA NEAL: I presented the bill, SB 143, last week, and the idea is that individuals who have been freed from prison, on parole, on probation, and they’ve served their time, that we’re actually giving them the right to housing. One of the great stabilizers is housing. It is also a stabilizer to prevent recidivation.

STARBUCK: And it would prohibit landlords from not letting someone rent or lease a place because of that record, right?

NEAL: Well, there are some exceptions, right? There is just general sensibility about any kind of sex crimes. They are actually excluded from the bill. There is some debate over what kind of violent crime. That’s what’s going to be amendment.

STARBUCK: What are you hearing from people with criminal or arrest records?

NEAL: They feel that they never can get stable because they can’t find a place to live. And sometimes, when you don’t have a stable place, it impacts your ability to go to work on time because you don’t know where you are day-to-day. And so, there is a sense of pride that is instilled in a person that feels like, “Okay, I’ve been released, I’ve served my time, and now I have a roof over my head.”

STARBUCK: What opposition are you hearing to the bill?

NEAL: The criminal history, not being able to check the convictions. So I will probably have to amend the bill to allow an initial check, but not a default, not a decision that says, “Well, I can’t take them because of X,” because that was the argument made: “Well, how can I check if they even fit into the sex crime category? If you’re– I’m not allowed to check at all?”

STARBUCK: You proposed this legislation last session.

NEAL: I did.

STARBUCK: The Democratic governor at the time vetoed it.

NEAL: He did.

STARBUCK: Now, it will need to be signed by a Republican governor. What’s different this session?

NEAL: I think that you should never stop fighting for trying to create equity. I’d rather roll the dice and fight for the bill than to give up and believe, “Oh, well, the current governor may not have an interest in the policy.” That’s not what my role is here. My role is to serve my district, move an agenda that they asked me to move, and to try to fight for the policy and get it out of both houses. And if he chooses to veto it, that’s not going to fall upon me. At the end of the day, I’m not going to give up hope just because the prior governor vetoed the bill.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC BEGINS)

STARBUCK: That was State Senator Dina Neal. I’m Lucia Starbuck, and you’ve been listening to Purple Politics Nevada.

(UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC ENDS)

The theme song, “Vibe Ace” by Kevin MacLeod, is licensed under Creative Commons and was edited for this episode.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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Purple Politics Nevada is produced by KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck. Vicki Adame is the show’s editor, and Crystal Willis is the digital editor. Zoe Malen designed the show’s logo.