Protecting bad tenants

A painful recession is no excuse to water down property rights in Nevada.

Assembly Bill 189, sponsored by Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, would allow nonpaying renters to remain in homes or apartments for up to 10 days before a landlord could serve an eviction notice. Current law gives tenants five days to come up with a late rent payment before a property owner can have them removed.

Mr. Hogan said the bill would “give tenants and their families a little more time to avoid homelessness in these very difficult times.”

Such reasoning ignores the fact that most landlords have their own obligations to meet, from a mortgage or debt payment on the property to property tax, utility and maintenance liabilities. They need to collect rent payments on a reliable, timely basis to cover those costs.

Moreover, tenants can’t simply be kicked out in the hours after their legally mandated grace period ends. Bret Holmes, president of the Southern Nevada Multi-Housing Association, said it’s usually a three- to four-week process to have a nonpaying tenant removed from a rental property. Mr. Holmes, in recent testimony before the Legislature, said AB189 could increase that period of nonpayment to six to eight weeks. That’s because the bill also would give renters five days to vacate the property after being served formal notice to move out.

Forcing property owners to go more than a month without compensation for contracted use of their property merely transfers the burdens of “these very difficult times” from one party to another.

“It’s the bad tenant who this law will protect,” Reno resident Rhonda Cain, a member of the Northern Nevada Apartment Association, testified last week.

In this economic climate, it is in a property owner’s interests to keep a home or apartment occupied, especially if the renter maintains the property and has a good payment history. Landlords will work with good tenants suffering hardships.

On the other hand, nonpayment is often the only way landlords can remove the most troublesome renters. Complaints from neighbors about disturbances, obvious neglect of the property, frequent violations of homeowner association rules — none of those factors alone can lead to a swift eviction notice, a fact that already turns the playing field in favor tenants. As long as they make their payments, they’re largely free to live in relative squalor, if they so choose.

Yes, many families are suffering across the Las Vegas Valley. And there are many government and nonprofit services available to help them put food on the table, pay their utility bills and cover visits to the doctor’s office. Keeping a roof over their heads should always be their top priority, in good times and bad.

Unfortunately, some renters who do just that are put in a bind through no fault of their own. Some landlords who bought investment properties at the housing market’s peak keep collecting rent payments from tenants, but stop paying their mortgages. Renters are then subject to eviction on short notice despite fulfilling their end of the bargain.

Assembly Bill 140, sponsored by Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, addresses this problem separately by requiring that renters be notified of a bank foreclosure at the same time as the property owners, and that they be given 60 days to move out. This proposal is worthy of lawmakers’ support.

Assembly Bill 189, however, is not. It’s another form of welfare, paid through an invisible tax on property owners who provide a critical commodity at their risk. The Legislature should reject AB189.

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