After Ted Green’s Reno apartment complex was sold last year, the new management raised rents for new tenants more than 100%, Green said,
Green, 61, a former flight attendant, moved to Reno from Texas in 2011 to care for his mother, who began to suffer from symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. He moved into her senior living complex in southeast Reno and shared an apartment with her for four years, until they had to leave due to the severity of his mother’s illness. After she died a few years ago, Green came back to live in the senior living complex with his mostly-older former neighbors.
Early last year, Green and the other residents received notice that their landlords were selling the complex to a California-based management company.
“Pretty much everything was a new day,” said Green. “This was a senior complex. You had to be 55 to move in. That changed. And pretty much overnight they doubled the rent for individuals just moving in. For example, a three bedroom, I think it was renting for $1,100. They tried to get $2,350, plus $2,350 for deposit.”
Exponential increases in rent have become a common story in Northern Nevada, where monthly payments – already on the rise thanks to the shortage of rental properties — have skyrocketed during the pandemic. The moratoriums on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis have kept some tenants in their homes. After landlords complained to the Legislature about those protections last year, the Nevada Realtors group sent out a newsletter in August with the headline “Raise the Roof: No Rent Caps in Nevada” informing its members there are no rent control laws.
Landlords can raise the rent as much as they like, as long as the rent increase does not occur during the current lease.”– Nevada Realtors, August 2021 newsletter.
Among highest increases in U.S.
Landlords and management companies apparently already were taking that advice to heart.
The rental-listing site Rent.com reports that average rental prices for a one-bedroom apartment in Reno increased 31% since last year. Statewide, the average increase for one-bedrooms was pegged at 22%. That was far below Reno’s spike, but still among the highest in the nation, which overall experienced a 10.5% jump in one-bedroom rent costs.
The increase in average rents for two-bedroom apartments in Reno was even higher – a 55% jump in Reno, according to the Rent.com report. The site pegs the “average one-bedroom apartment” rent at $1,480 per month.
The average rent for all apartment types in Reno-Sparks reached $1,632 in the third quarter of 2021. That was an increase of $25 from the previous quarter, according to the real estate appraisal firm Johnson Perkins Griffin.
Seniors on fixed incomes
The senior tenants in Ted Green’s complex, many of whom are on fixed incomes, were among those boxed-in by the rent increases.
At 61, Green was the youngest person living in the complex before the change in age requirement. And as the only African American tenant, his is a familiar face around the complex. Some of the older residents began to turn to him for guidance on how to navigate the new changes to their living spaces.
Before changing ownership last February, the former owners put all the residents under a lease that kept their rents at the same rate for the coming year, a gesture Green appreciated. But as word spread that units were being rented at almost double the current rates for new residents, Green began to worry about what would happen to his neighbors when their leases expired.
“That’s when we got involved with our city, our ward, (and) Councilwoman Naomi Duerr,” Green said. “We put together a meeting with everyone and tried to figure out, you know, what’s going on here? What are they gonna do?”
The management company’s vice president and another company representative attended the meeting. “(That) was wonderful.. but they didn’t give us any information. They told us specifically that ‘I can’t tell you what we’re going to do in the future.’” Green said.
A runaway market
This year, Green and other residents received a notice to expect a 10% bump in rent. He said he can afford the increase and feels is understandable given current property values. But he said the landlord is refusing to extend all tenants’ leases. If the new owners charge much more, or worse, decide to abruptly switch to market rates, Green said he will have to move back to Texas.
Many of his neighbors in the 57-unit complex won’t have that option, he noted.
“If you lose 57 affordable housing units for seniors, where are these seniors going to go to move to? Now, a first, last, deposit, application fee is $4,000 … those people are retired or on disability. They are on fixed income. These people are not working. So, it’s shocking of what they’re doing to a lot of people.” – Ted Green, Reno tenant.
Green blames corporate greed—to an extent—for the city’s current rent crisis. He doesn’t want to stifle the city’s focus on economic growth when it comes to attracting new businesses, and understands landlords who want to make the most of their investment.
But Green believes the city needs rent control to stop the runaway market, or at least legal protections to keep seniors in their buildings when new owners take over.
“There’s real people hurting on the other end of it,” Green said.
Legal aid helps tenants
Green is one of thousands of Reno residents who have sought help from nonprofit programs like Washoe County Legal Services, which provides legal advice and representation to residents who may not be able to afford private attorneys.
Drew Wheaton, a lawyer who supervises the housing and consumer team at the legal services, worked on Green’s case and dozens of others in the past three years. Most of those cases were aimed at stopping evictions.
“I’ve only practiced in Nevada since 2019, but with rent prices going up and there being a lot of housing instability, and difficulty with people moving to new housing, I would say probably 80% of our team’s work … [is]preventing evictions and the way people deal with other housing related issues like habitability and essential services,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton’s office has seen an increase in non-payment of rent evictions in his short tenure, but also a spike in “no cause” evictions. Nevada law allows landlords to evict people without stating a reason for the action. That affects tenants’ ability to find other housing. Just like “for-cause” evictions, any legal eviction remains on a renter’s record and can irreconcilably affect their ability to find housing in the future.
Scarlet ‘E’ for eviction
“It disqualifies you from certain types of federal assisted housing funds,” Wheaton said. “And then also, when landlords do searches, they can see that there’s an eviction on the record. It’s really very difficult to find housing at that point.”
Wheaton said that, due to the shortage of affordable housing and Nevada’s confusing eviction laws, many of his clients come to him in a time of crisis.
“A lot of people don’t have experience with this until they’ve already received a notice,” Wheaton said. “And the process is so fast in Nevada. For a non-payment eviction notice, you see this big thing that says you have seven days to pay rent or leave.”
In Nevada, many renters make the mistake of assuming that once they have received an initial eviction notice, they are already in the court system and must vacate or face a lockout. Wheaton said that, often, his first course of action is to file a Renter’s Affidavit, which is a motion that notifies the court that a renter has received a notice and is intending to fight the eviction.
The ‘scary’ notice
An eviction can’t take place until a landlord files their own affidavit, but if a renter has a preliminary motion filed, a judge can stay the eviction until terms are reached between the renter and landlord. The process is backward, Wheaton believes, but many landlords will give an eviction notice without having filed an affidavit.
In those cases, the notices may not have any legal standing yet, but may look scary enough to cause renters to vacate on their own. Renters can also protect themselves by filing for federal or state rental relief programs.
“The court is required to stay any eviction if there’s proof that the tenant has a pending assistance application, and that the tenant is making a good faith effort to complete the application,” Wheaton said. “But the burden is on the tenant.”
Job loss takes a toll
Nichole Rowland is another of Wheaton’s clients who faced a surprise eviction from her longtime landlord last year—and is currently facing another. A mother of three, Rowland, her husband, and their two dogs have rented their home in northwest Stead for the last eight years. Their initial rent payment was $1,100 a month; now it’s been raised to $1,450.
At the start of the pandemic, Rowland and her husband both lost their jobs (she is a medical assistant; he’s a plant worker) and filed for unemployment benefits. After a year of battling COVID-19 infections in the family, and strained finances that caused them to fall behind on rent, they received an eviction notice on their door last February.
“So, you know, of course we’ll start looking,” Rowland said. “And then we look at the housing market and it’s doubled, If not more. I’ve seen houses like this going for $2,500 a month and I’m like, ‘Who can afford that?’”
Landlord refuses payments
After a good-faith effort to find more housing for her family, Rowland sought legal help when she faced a potential lockout in September. After securing financial assistance from the Housing authority’s CARES Housing Assistances Program, she met with her landlords to pay their delinquent rent.
“They refused it,” Rowland said. “They just flat out said, ‘No, we don’t want anything to do with it.’ I was like, ‘I’m just trying to get you paid so we have a roof.’ We sold off cars, we sold, I mean, anything of value at one point, just trying to make the bills.”
Eventually a judge forced their landlords to take the money. Rowland thought she had secured her family’s house by paying the money she owed, so it came as another shock when she found another eviction notice pinned to her door two weeks ago.
“I was almost in tears,” she said. “I thought they weren’t supposed to do this. My understanding was if we had paid them up to that date, they weren’t allowed to start filing evictions.”
Rowland said for the past eight years, her family and her landlord’s had been friendly. They had had dinners together; her husband had done some handyman work around their house. Their children are around the same age and attend school together. When the first eviction notice came, Rowland said the landlords alluded to a divorce in the family as reason to sell the house, then it was a sickness, then they stopped communicating altogether.
“If, you know, things went kind of weird and they need the money or the house, I understand that. We’re not trying to stay out of spite. It’s just literally we have nowhere to.” – Nichole Rowland, Reno tenant.
After searching for property within their budget anywhere in the area, and considering moving in with parents, or even into a motor home, the Rowlands are left with one option should their second eviction action be successful: leave their friends, family, and the life they’ve built in Reno behind.
“I’m starting to box things up just in case we find something in a hurry, but like, my kids haven’t ever lived anywhere else really,” Rowland said. “This is their family home. They’ve grown up here and I have pictures of them on the top of the stair when they’re all like, my son was two now he’s 11. They’re not ready to take stuff off the walls, or the Christmas tree down. We’re not ever going to have another Christmas here.”
End of the line
Rowland is one of thousands of renters watching Reno’s housing drama unfold in an endless cast of shady characters, million-dollar deals, and broken promises from City officials and developers alike. After years of population growth, stagnating wages, outdated and overpriced properties—and a global pandemic—Reno’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment now hovers somewhere around $1,500.
Various community programs, civic leaders, corporations and politicians have all tried to parse the problem in a way that best serves their interests, tenants complained. But as Reno citizens of every age, race, and background confront the question “How will I make rent?” the answer becomes more brutally apparent with each passing month:
it’s a pandemic.
I left Reno for Florida… I must’ve brought it here with me.
I can’t see how young folks can ever get ahead. Ever.
To begin to answer this problem it would be wise to hear both sides of the issue and for landlords’ and renters to meet in the middle. If the pendulum starts swinging to radically one direction, like let’s say against property owners who are landlords, then that is a bad thing, and yet something has to be done with greedy property rental companies and property owners who are gouging renters because they can.
it shamefull that those on fixed incomes are being pushed out. But to where? I have never felt so ashamed of being disabled in my life. I always helped others but I am barely hanging on. We are forgotten disposable for the market value. We don’t have any way to society it seems. I see more and more older folks going back to work because we have no choice but to put our bodies in more work mode when we have worked our tails off. The paperwork is mentally exhausting. I have to prove how broke I am and have to supply copies of items. Some can’t even afford to print the paperwork. Trimming the paperwork would make sense. I have to prove SSD, Snap. So if its based on that would help so many of us. Sadly the COLA bump knocked us off assistance programs, while I see folks medicaid get more services than I do on Medicare Advantage and pay 170 a month. For way less.. Just found out you even get a costco membership. Must be nice. I can’t afford that. Netflix. luxury. eating out luxury, going to do things nope gas prices made that impossible. I only go out for medical and food shopping. Would I like to see the new biz. yes. can I afford to eat there nope. Haven’t been downtown in ages. Haven’t left the area in 10 years. Once you have medical issues you only can afford to treat one item a year. PPl outside the box don’t see it. I fear more murder suicides among our older parents. How in good conscience kick out someones parents. I understand it market these days but at what costs? When is enough enough. At what pt are to too far gone down the rabbit hole and there is no lifejacket.
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