Three days a week, Jessica drives 45 minutes into Sparks, Nevada, to drop her son off at school.
Until this month, her commute was a lot shorter.
“I got a 30-day notice,” she said in an interview with Nevada Public Radio. “I was month-to-month, so I believe that’s why they wanted me out.”
Jessica, whose divorce attorney advised her not to use her full name for this story, had been living in her studio apartment for three years. But when she lost her job as a manager in the ophthalmology field due to COVID-19, she couldn’t make rent.
Jessica’s month-to-month lease meant her landlord was able to serve her with a “no-cause” eviction, which doesn’t require an explanation for why the tenant is being required to leave.
"I was forced to move out to a ranch with a bunch of friends, which wasn't ideal, but I have a 5-year-old son and I'm a single mom," she said. “I had to do what I had to do.”
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak recently issued the state’s second eviction moratorium since the pandemic arrived, just weeks before a similar order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will expire on Jan. 1.
Sisolak’s first moratorium, which blocked eviction cases from being heard in the first place, expired in October.
But for many Nevadans like Jessica, it’s already too late.
“I noticed a lot of people around my apartment complex had the same notice,” she said. “When I called my landlord to talk about it, she had to look me up, because she didn’t know which one it was. She said, ‘I just sent out 30 of these, so I don’t know who you are.’”
Bailey Bortolin, a Carson City-based attorney and policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, says that’s because the federal ban didn’t do enough to prevent a rising number of evictions around the state.
"It's going to change a lot of outcomes for people that he did step in and do something about this at the state level," she said. “There was a very real equity issue that we were facing.”
She said the main flaw of the CDC’s order was that it wasn’t specific enough, which has led to a recent surge in eviction filings — especially in Southern Nevada, where the Las Vegas justice court deemed them an essential function, allowing cases to be heard in person.
"We saw judges taking what was a really broad order, that wasn't written specific to Nevada law, and really narrowly applying it to allow for a lot of exemptions,” she said.
She explained that the Gov. Sisolak’s new moratorium, which will be in effect through March 2021, goes further than the federal one.
"The landlord has to present evidence as to why they believe the tenant does not qualify for the protections, or present evidence as to a reasonable expectation that they will be foreclosed upon if they can't evict this tenant," she said.
But the state order also requires renters to submit a written declaration explaining how they qualify for its protections.
Rental assistance programs operated by the state and nonprofit organizations have been swamped with demand. According to Jessica, the delay contributed to her being forced out.
“They didn’t get back to me for like three months and then they wanted more details,” she said. “They said that they were so backlogged when I called that they don’t know when they would’ve been able to get to my application.”
She says she informed her landlord about the long wait, but that didn’t make a difference. Same goes for a payment plan she proposed, which she said was rejected.
Even if someone is lucky enough to receive rental assistance, it’s not a guarantee they’ll be able to keep their place.
According to Jim Berchtold, directing attorney of the Consumer Rights Project at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, some landlords have been refusing to accept payments from such programs, which are sent directly to them on behalf of the renter.
He told reporters on Tuesday that he’s aware of at least two cases in which landlords refused rental assistance checks because of the tax implications.
“The landlords apparently were not claiming the income from the rental properties,” he said.
Berchtold also explained it’s possible landlords are forcing tenants out in order to re-rent their units at a higher price. But it’s not a strategy he would recommend.
“That is risky from a landlord’s perspective, given that there are thousands of people in town who cannot rent right now, who have no money,” he said.
For Jessica, the experience of losing her job and then her apartment has been difficult to bear.
"I feel like I have zero control and not so much faith in my government right now. I hate to say that but it's true,” she said. “In regards to having stability or having faith that we’re gonna be taken care of, that’s gone out the door.”
Renters in Nevada who have been impacted by the pandemic can find more information about rental assistance at the CARES Housing Assistance Program website or from the Washoe County Human Services Agency. The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada has also published a guide to Gov. Sisolak’s newest moratorium.
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