LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Las Vegas lawmaker is trying to change the rules on “summary evictions” — when landlords kick people out of apartments with no chance to resolve a problem.
Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong, a Las Vegas Democrat, says Assembly Bill 340 (AB340) brings summary evictions in line with every other civil matter that comes before a court. It puts an end to the status quo that often ends with people locked out of their homes.
“Summary eviction is the quick removal of a human being from the place where they live,” Summers-Armstrong said.
As many as 300 to 500 people a day come to a Las Vegas area “legal emergency room” looking for help, according to Jonathan Norman, Advocacy, Outreach and Policy Director for Nevada’s Coalition of Legal Services. He described a process that confuses people who are caught in the middle.
“This bill would require the first document filed with the court in a summary eviction action to be a complaint, followed by an answer from the tenant,” Norman said. “Our current system requires a tenant to file an answer before a complaint is filed. And once the complaint is filed the tenant no longer has the opportunity to file an answer. That opportunity has passed.”
Nevada is the only state that Norman knows of that starts the process with the filing of the summary eviction. He provided a description of the new steps included in the bill:
Many lawmakers addressed the issue as a part of the housing crisis in Nevada, and Norman described the current eviction process as traumatic. And some lawmakers were also interested in getting help to tenants before the eviction notice is on the door.
Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen, who represents District 29 in Henderson, said she had only dealt with the issue once, but it made an impression.
“As an attorney I started with this and I went through the statutes and I remember I kept saying ‘This can’t be right, what do you mean an answer gets filed first? It just makes no sense,’ ” Cohen said.
“It is a confusing thing to put into a sentence, right?” Norman said. “That the complaint comes after the answer, and when the complaint is filed the opportunity to answer has passed. It’s even more confusing for tenants to understand.”
Summers-Armstrong said she has been unable to get support from the Nevada Apartment Association or any representatives in the Realtor community. Work on the bill continues.
Republican Assemblyman Toby Yurek asked if rules tilted toward tenants might make the housing crisis worse by forcing landlords out of the business. He also asked if AirBnB and other short-term tenants might use the rules to resist eviction.
Norman said keeping the bill simple and clear is a priority. Mistakes are constantly made in dealing with evictions, he said. He said changing the order of the answer and the complaint presents an opportunity for social services to get involved in the process earlier.
Too often, tenants end up in a situation where they are making a choice between groceries and rent — or medicine and rent, Norman said.