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EDITORIAL: Hold landlords and tenants to the same standard

There are some bad landlords in the Las Vegas Valley.

That’s the unmistakable takeaway from a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation by Michael Scott Davidson and Lauren Flannery. They share the story of Margarita DeLoach who says her rental house didn’t have heat for three weeks last winter. Ms. DeLoach blames the property owner, King Futt’s PFM, for dragging its feet on the needed repairs.

She was hardly alone. Melody Cabral currently rents a home from King Futt’s. She saw the house when it was being rehabbed. When she came back to the home at the start of her lease, it was covered with garbage, including broken glass in the backyard and garage. She had a water softener that was malfunctioning. Meantime, Teresa and Joe Jaffer accused King Futt’s of mishandling a repair job and exposing them to a mold infestation. King Futt’s declined to comment on these situations.

These stories reveal many King Futt’s properties have issues that the company has a moral and legal obligation to address. In exchange for rent, King Futt’s is responsible for providing a livable home. It is inexcusable for the company to willfully fail to uphold its end of the bargain and cause hardship for families. These situations are especially frustrating because it’s often prohibitively expensive and time intensive for a renter to sue in court when litigating against an opponent with much greater resources.

Landlords who lease virtually uninhabitable residences need to suffer legal consequences, including both fines and compensation to renters. They have a responsibility to ensure that the products they put on the market are up to code and that maintenance is more than simply a promise. Bad actors who aren’t living up to lease agreements shouldn’t be allowed to bully renters of modest means.

But you don’t solve this problem by conflating it with companies that foreclose on delinquent or destructive renters.

The investigation found that nine companies in the Las Vegas Valley rent own 100 or more single-family homes, which they purchased after the 2008 recession. Each of those companies had an eviction rate above the valley average of 1.6 percent. Those nine companies own 6 percent of the single-family homes on the rental market, but had just under 18 percent of court-ordered evictions. King Futt’s tops the list with a 14.4 percent eviction rate. Tricon American Homes had the lowest rate, at 2.3 percent.

Irresponsible renters who destroy property or don’t pay their rent essentially engage in the same conduct King Futt’s appears to have done — they are flouting a legally binding contract. Yes, it’s wrong for King Futt’s to ignore its obligations. It’s also wrong for renters to ignore theirs.

It’s often portrayed as nefarious or scandalous when a property owner starts eviction proceedings against a tenant. But it’s worth noting that the vast majority of credible landlords don’t relish attempting to remove a renter, which is expensive and time-consuming. If landlords aren’t able to collect rent, eventually, they’ll be unable to make repairs for responsible tenants who stay up on their bills.

Eviction proceedings are “our way to get our house back and get our property back with a nonpayment of rent situation,” Erin Ben-Samochan, King Futt’s executive manager, said. “Unfortunately, we have to still pay our loans, our mortgages, our utilities, even when tenants are not paying the rent or not paying it on time.”

A higher-than-average eviction rate doesn’t by itself signal that a rental company is treating tenants unfairly. But companies should indeed be held responsible and suffer a reputational decline if they don’t uphold their end of a rental contract.

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