By the Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board, July 8, 2023
The appeal of most renter-protection laws relies on a subtle misdirection.
Last month, Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a trio of bills related to renters and landlords. Senate Bill 335 would have put a 60-day halt on evictions for people with pending rental assistance applications. Another would have made it harder to evict tenants. The third would have imposed a series of restrictions on how landlords interacted with renters and potential renters. For instance, it would have mandated landlord include a grace period for late rents.
In a statement, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada called the vetoes “misguided.” It claimed rejecting those bills “will lead to thousands of newly homeless Nevadans.”
That’s unlikely, particularly as local rents have fallen significantly over the past year. A national real estate website revealed last week that Nevada led the nation in rental rate decline, down 7.4 percent in May from the year previous.
But the rhetoric from tenant activists too often assumes that renters have a right to somebody else’s property. They don’t. A true “right” doesn’t impose an obligation on others. There are two sides in every dispute. Let’s remember that landlords typically aren’t in the business of throwing out renters for no reason.
Consider a recent Associated Press story that profiled landlords affected by three-year ban on evictions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pamela Haile is a retiree who owns a rental house in Oakland, California. She has faithfully been paying her property tax and insurance, but for three years, she hasn’t collected a dime in rent from her tenants. She said her tenants owe her more than $60,000. To make matters worse, they’ve trashed the place. She will have to sink tens of thousands of dollars into her property before it can be livable again.
“There is nothing natural about being forced to house and have people live in your property for over three years and not pay,” said Michelle Hailey, another landlord with two non-paying tenants.
Such stories were also common in Las Vegas when then-Gov. Steve Sisolak imposed an eviction moratorium during the pandemic. While many landlords were stuck with nonpaying tenants for months, they were still expected to meet their own financial obligations, paying property taxes and utility bills.
“The industry has been left to foot the bill for rental arrears for more than a year now — and, as a small profit margin industry, many rental housing providers won’t be able to hold on much longer,” wrote Susy Vasquez, executive director of the Nevada State Apartment Association, in an August 2021 essay for the Review-Journal.
Proponents of rent control and other market interventions often rail against “corporate” landlords. But such investors serve an important purpose in the housing market, both providing a vital service and sending price signals. Owners don’t lose their property rights because they own too much property.
There are indeed bad landlords in Nevada. But the vast majority of owners will work with tenants who have temporarily fallen on hard times. There are also problem tenants. State law does an adequate job of balancing a landlord’s rights with protections for renters. Many of the proposals that circulated in Carson City last session would have made it easier for tenants to avoid their responsibilities without any consideration for the financial burden being imposed on landlords.
Heavy-handed regulation — like much of what legislative Democrats favor — will discourage investment in the industry, driving up prices for renters and leading to an erosion of available housing stock. Protecting tenants is only half the equation.