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Nevadans who miss rent, mortgage payments during outbreak still owe

Updated April 3, 2020 - 7:33 pm

LaRae Sloane has been a cocktail server for 30 years in Las Vegas, though with the Strip effectively closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, she and masses of others are out of work.

The Summerlin resident is worried she can’t make her mortgage payment. But for now, a lifeline from the state should let her and other Nevadans keep their homes amid the turmoil.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency order March 29 that temporarily freezes eviction and foreclosure proceedings involving residential or commercial real estate, with exceptions for people who pose a threat to others or to their property. It also bars late fees or penalties for nonpayment during the crisis.

Sisolak’s order does not give tenants and homeowners a green light to live for free, nor does it dictate how missed checks will be repaid if people fall behind on their housing payments because of the turmoil.

But major banks are willing to suspend mortgage payments amid the pandemic, and Nevada Treasurer Zach Conine said the governor’s order removes the threat of people losing their homes, making a difficult time “a little bit easier right now.”

Conine also said big lenders told him they won’t require a lump sum for missed payments.

“We don’t want the aftershock to be as bad as the earthquake,” he said.

Mortgages

Sisolak’s order states it does not relieve people of “their contractual obligations” to pay the rent or the mortgage. But it says that when financial hardships created by the pandemic have passed, borrowers, lenders, tenants and landlords are “encouraged to negotiate payment plans or other agreements” to recoup missed payments.

Nevada Bankers Association President and CEO Phyllis Gurgevich said lenders are “hitting the pause button” during the crisis and indicated repayment arrangements will be made later.

But she stressed that borrowers need to contact their lenders to explain their situations, especially if they expect to fall behind on mortgages.

“We recognize this is a huge hardship and a lot of Nevadans are suffering,” Gurgevich said.

Even before Sisolak issued his order, major lenders such as Wells Fargo and Chase told the Review-Journal that borrowers can defer payments for 90 days.

Rental payments

Justin Habig, a 30-year-old assistant restaurant manager at Bellagio, said he just finished 10 years in the Army and was enjoying his new job on the Strip when all the casinos closed. He and his wife rent an apartment in Henderson and, he said, are “definitely nervous” about their finances.

Habig figures the landlord would be willing to negotiate rent payments, adding it’s the “logical” approach.

“They know unemployment right now is through the roof,” he said.

Susy Vasquez, executive director of the Nevada State Apartment Association, indicated landlords are making payment arrangements with residents.

For now, it’s unclear how many renters will need a payment break.

“We can’t quantify the impact quite yet,” Vasquez said.

‘This is all brand-new’

The novel coronavirus has upended daily life with sweeping business closures and other shutdowns as governments and companies race to contain its spread. Job losses are skyrocketing locally and nationally, raising the prospect of waves of missed housing payments, though Sisolak’s order ensures, for now, that Nevadans who fall behind on those bills don’t get locked out of their homes.

There are still plenty of unknowns in Las Vegas and around the U.S., including the virus’ reach and how long businesses will remain closed. But the economic damage has been massive and swift.

Las Vegas’ financial lifeblood, the Strip, has effectively shut down. Nationwide, a record 6.6 million-plus people filed unemployment insurance claims in the week ending March 28, double the prior week, according to seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Sloane, the cocktail server, worked at Bellagio for 11 years. She recently received her first unemployment check.

She also applied for money from employer MGM Resorts International, which pledged $1 million for an employee emergency grant fund last month.

Seth Schorr, a 31-year-old Las Vegas resident, recently landed a job with a staffing agency. But as the coronavirus sparked closures around the valley, his new employer delayed his start date, and a few days after that, he said, it rescinded the job altogether.

Schorr, who lives in an apartment, said he has worked steadily since he was 15, including full time through college, and figures he’ll tap his savings for rent.

“I’ve never been unemployed. … This is all brand-new to me,” he said.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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