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Self-Help Center in Las Vegas offers free aid to those dealing with evictions

Being evicted in Nevada can be quick and painful, but the damage haunts renters.

“Our process (in Nevada) is a fast and expedited one,” said Lauren Peña, the directing attorney at the Civil Law Self-Help Center. “And then when it’s done, there is no way to seal your eviction record.”

While many might see an eviction case as cut and dried, Peña knows it can be more complicated. That’s part of why the Self-Help Center exists.

The center started in 2009 in partnership with the Clark County courts, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and the Clark County Neighborhood Justice Center as a way to provide information about the legal system and referrals to community resources.

While the center helps people find the correct paperwork, it doesn’t provide legal counsel.

Last year, about 58,000 people came to the center, Peña said.

“I would say the largest percentage of them were for evictions,” she added.

The center takes clients through the basics of evictions. For example, if a landlord doesn’t receive rent, he or she can serve a notice of eviction.

“Then tenants have five days to file a response, pay or leave,” Peña said.

However, tenants can withhold rent for many reasons, including unfixed essential services such as air conditioning in the summer, having no working lock on the front door, mold or bed bugs, she said. A landlord has 48 hours to respond to requests to fix such essential services, or 14 days for nonessential services.

In the meantime, the landlord still can file an eviction notice.

Tenants can file an affidavit to oppose the order within five days, after which it goes before a judge.

Citizenship status, language barriers or having a low income might prevent some people from challenging eviction notices, Peña said.

The city handles a large number of evictions, she said, which she attributes to many factors such as a lack of affordable housing.

Tenants have a chance to appeal the judge’s decision, though they rarely do, Peña said. In 2016, 222 people did so in Las Vegas and 12 appealed in Henderson.

Peña thinks the number of appeals is low for many reasons. For one, the fee is $250.

Even if a person wins an appeal or has a justifiable reason for withholding rent, an eviction notice stays on his or her record.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Alexis Cottman moved four years ago to Las Vegas, where she met Quinzey Chandler.

Because her mother had Alzheimer’s disease, Cottman wanted to find a single-story house so she and Chandler didn’t have to worry about stairs.

In 2015, they found a lease-to-purchase property in southwest Las Vegas. However, it was a difficult living situation; the air conditioning, refrigerator and dishwasher broke in the first few months, Cottman said.

When Cottman’s mother died in 2016, Cottman said, she told her landlord that her rent might be late. That began a monthslong back-and-forth that included late fees piling up and ended with an eviction.

Tennille Pereira, the attorney for the Consumer Rights Project at the Legal Aid Center, said Cottman and Chandler were denied due process. After filing an appeal and making their case to a judge, Cottman said, the couple were evicted in January.

“I got the call when I was at work,” she said.

Chandler, who was home at the time, had 15 minutes to grab essentials before he was forced out of the house.

In the month since, Cottman said, the couple have looked at 47 properties and spent $1,200 on application fees only to get denied each time.

They’ve been staying at a weekly motel, which costs more per month than an apartment.

Cottman and Chandler have been working with Legal Aid since January to determine their best course of action for taking their former landlord to court to recover property.

Even if they win a judgment, the past is done.

“The eviction stays with you forever,” Cottman said. “It’s a stain you will always carry, and there is no way around it.”

To reach Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle, email mlyle@viewnews.com or call 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.

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