Michael Lyle

(Nevada Current) In a Friday night dump, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed the overwhelming bulk of legislation that would have expanded tenant protections, made changes to eviction proceedings and authorized more tools to address the housing crisis.

Lombardo killed a record-breaking 75 bills that, in addition to housing bills social service groups said would prevent an eviction and homeless crisis, also included legislation to fund universal free lunch for K-12 schools and provide health care coverage for pregnant undocumented women.

Because the state didn’t enact several bills that would have addressed the housing crisis, Jonathan Norman, the statewide policy director for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, worries Nevada “will see a spike in people needlessly forced into homelessness.”

He points to Senate Bill 335 in particular, which would have extended a 2021 law that expired June 5 that paused eviction proceedings for 60 days if a rental assistance application was pending.

The day after the 2021 law expired, people attending court hearings learned their evictions could proceed despite waiting on assistance.

“Without (SB 335) being signed I think the number of evictions is going to spike to a level I don’t think our community has ever seen,” Norman said. “I think we are going to have people who have never been homeless before face the real prospect of being homeless for the first time.”

Lombardo vetoed Assembly Bill 340. The state’s summary eviction system requires tenants, rather than landlords, be the first to file a case with the courts after receiving a pay or quit notice. The bill would have flipped the process to require landlords file first.

Two other measures killed Friday were Senate Bill 78 and Assembly Bill 218, which put more regulations and transparency around rental applications and fees associated with listed units.

Additionally, Lombardo vetoed Senate Bill 371, which clarified local authority’s ability to address the housing crisis.

Though the Legislative Counsel Bureau has repeatedly told municipalities they already have the power to adopt measures to address affordable housing, many have declined to use that power.

All these bills were proposed as a response to the state’s growing housing crisis that has been compounded by skyrocketing rents, limited housing stock and the end of Covid-era resources like wide-scale rental assistance and a reduction in food assistance.

Social service groups warned a crisis is brewing.

Many of these bills have been in limbo and sat on Lombardo’s desk (some since May 31) until Friday, the last day he had to take action before they automatically became law.

There were two special legislative sessions during that period, one that approved an allocation of $380 million in public assistance for a 9-acre baseball stadium on the Strip.

Lawmakers passed that subsidy, Senate Bill 1, on June 14 and Lombardo signed the legislation June 15.

In a lengthy Twitter thread June 16, a day after Lombardo signed the stadium bill, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager warned there was a “serious eviction crisis looming in Las Vegas because those who have pending applications for rental assistance no longer are protected from being evicted.”

He referenced the several tenant protection bills that were crucial to avoid the crisis.

Nevada Current reached out to Yeager to ask if Democratic leadership got any assurances on the pending housing bills when negotiating the stadium bill.

Yeager didn’t respond.

‘Cruelly ironic’

In 2021 state lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 486 offering the eviction protection while tenants applied for rental assistance, but the law expired June 5.

In a statement to the Nevada Current, the Nevada Apartment Association said the “process was deeply flawed,” and added that the “sunset of AB 486 will ensure landlords and tenants will be able to work together without the harms of this system.”

Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Melissa Saragosa told lawmakers in April the protection created procedural issues that have “crippled the court process.”

Since the 2021 law didn’t give a set timeframe for how long a case could be paused, this year’s legislation, SB 335, capped it at 60 days while rental assistance applications were being processed by Clark County. If applications were denied, the eviction case would proceed.

The bill also allowed for courts to set up eviction diversion programs.

“This is about averting homelessness and it’s really needless homelessness,” Norman said. “If through rental assistance you can make the landlord whole and get someone righted and they’ll be able to stay housed.”

Assembly Bill 396, which allocated $12 million over the biennium for rental assistance to Clark County, did survive Friday’s mass veto. Reno and Sparks also received $3 million over the same time period.

Clark County’s CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) stopped accepting applications for wide-scale rental assistance in January.

Instead, the program is limited to people living on fixed incomes who have faced substantial rent increases in the last year as well as those going through eviction diversion.

Norman said approving millions more in rental assistance funds without corresponding legislation to ensure that money gets to tenants and landlords is hollow.

“If you appropriate rental assistance but don’t have a mechanism for that rental assistance to be effective, to me it shows you don’t understand the issues around eviction and summary evictions and you don’t understand the issues facing the average Nevadas that’s in a rental situation and is vulnerable,” he said.

After turning proposed legislation to change the eviction system in 2021 into a study bill, lawmakers introduced Assembly Bill 340 this year to flip the process.

Norman said the bill was less about addressing the crisis but more about aligning eviction proceedings with that of nearly every other state. He said when people move to the state or face eviction for the first time, they expect a certified court document rather than a paper notice.

“They expect a document from the court if a fundamental right, their right to live in a home, is in question,” he said. “Nevada does not provide that. Governor Lombardo decided tenants don’t deserve that type of notice.”

After one proposal to rein in rental deposit and application fees failed in 2021, lawmakers this year brought back several proposals targeting hidden fees associated with rental units.

SB 78 sought to prevent landlords from collecting unlimited application fees on a single unit by prohibiting charging fees to other prospective tenants “unless the application or applications for that dwelling unit have been denied.”

The bill originally proposed lengthening the timeframe for no-cause evictions but was amended out before its first hearing in March.

While the legislation didn’t address the immediate housing crisis, it would have created transparency around application fees, Norman said.

“We were hearing from community partners that they had members who were required to pay application fees for every member of their household including minors,” Norman said.

Days before the veto, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and United Way of Southern Nevada put out a joint statement saying many of these bills were needed and would work in tandem to prevent a homelessness crisis.

Barbara Buckley, the executive director of Legal Aid, said the bills were “common sense solutions” that could prevent people, particularly vulnerable populations like seniors on fixed incomes and and people with disabilities, from facing an eviction if rental assistance is available.

While Lombardo signed a bill that allocated $100 million to build a center offering consolidated homeless services – emergency shelters, navigation centers, health care providers, job training and transitional housing  – the pieces of legislation he vetoed were designed to prevent homelessness in the first place.

“It would be cruelly ironic to appropriate $100 million to serve the homeless while not taking action on bills which could sharply decrease future potential homelessness,” Buckley said ahead of the vetoes.

Julian High, the President and CEO of United Way of Southern Nevada, said the bills would strengthen the social safety net.

Other nonprofits, including HopeLink, also urged Lombardo to sign SB 335 and AB 396. In an email, HopeLink wrote that Southern Nevada residents relied on both those bills passing and “now is not the time to leave our community high and dry.”

Another bill that was vetoed Friday was AB 218, which required landlords to offer a feeless way for tenants to pay rent other than through an online portal.

The bill also mandated all non-optional fees connected to the rental, such as sewer and water fees, be listed when advertising the property.

Prior to Friday’s mass veto, Lombardo already killed Assembly Bill 298, which sought to cap rent increases at 10% for people older than 62 or who rely on disability insurance benefits.

The bill would have required landlords to refund application fees for unscreened tenants and include an appendix that outlines all the fees associated with renting the place.

In his veto message, Lombardo called the legislation “needlessly heavy handed” and “an unreasonable restraint on standard business activity.”

The one tenant protection bill Lombardo signed in June was Senate Bill 381, which prevents landlords from charging tenants fees to perform repairs and takes effect July 1.