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Clark & Walker, P.C. - Attorneys at Law
Date: March 18, 2020

Nevada Multihousing Operations
Frequently Asked Questions for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

By: Christopher R. Walker

On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. In the days that followed several jurisdictions have sought to limit the ability of people to congregate and some have sought to have residents shelter in place. The Nevada Governor has issued similar orders limiting the ability to patron restaurants and bars, statewide mandating the closure of all dining rooms and bars.

In this climate there are an ever growing number of questions. The Firm has prepared the following frequently asked questions to assist clients in this difficult and uncertain time:

1. What are the symptoms and complications of COVID-19?
Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Complications include secondary bacterial pneumonia, respiratory failure and death.

2. How is COVID-19 Spread?
The virus is thought to spread person-to-person via respiratory droplets that are produced when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. This can occur from direct contact with the droplets or from fomite transmission.

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3. Can a community close the leasing office?
Many businesses are being faced with this difficult decision. The CDC and local and state governments have recommended that in-person contact be avoided to the greatest extent possible. With the goal being less in-person communication, properties can limit the hours of their leasing/business center or close the center entirely to the public and its residents. If your company decides to close the office you must make sure that there are alternate means of communication available to your residents in the event of a maintenance emergency. Further, you must ensure that the closure of the office does not impede the payment of monthly rent. Drop boxes should be utilized as well as online payment methods to accommodate tenants while the office is closed.

Please be advised that the Governor has issued an order closing down all restaurants (dine-in only), bars, and theaters. The Governor has recommended places of gathering be closed until further notice. Landlords should heed to the warnings of these cities during this pandemic.

4. Should I close the fitness center and pool area?
Health clubs across the country have decided to close down operations amidst this pandemic. As the spread of the virus can occur upon direct contact with cough particulates, areas of exercise are likely to be a place of contagion. As such, it is recommended that you close your fitness facility or, at the very least, regularly sanitize the area and make sure that there are sanitizing products available in the fitness center for the use of residents while they use the facility.

5. Are the courts open?
The Clark County Courts remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, they are limiting access to the court and only for essential cases. Pursuant to Administrative Order 20-03 the Las Vegas Justice Court will suspend all eviction hearings for the next 30 days. All landlords in the Las Vegas precinct may continue to file evictions, however, hearings will not be scheduled until late April. The courts in North Las Vegas and Henderson will not accept new filings at this time.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide guidance as new facts become available.

6. Should I release a tenant from his or her lease due to COVID-19?
Several inquiries have been made about tenants seeking to terminate their lease to return home during this pandemic. Several requests relate to students that are in the United States for education and are being called back to their country of origin due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while other requests are related to persons seeking to relocate home to be with family. Neither case presents a legal justification for the termination of the lease without penalty. If a tenant has a disability related need to relocate then the fair housing act would require the release of that tenant from the lease without penalty. Absent a disability related need to relocate a landlord may continue to enforce the terms of the lease. If there is an immediate need to relocate, the Firm recommends a waiver of the notice of intent to vacate, but an enforcement of the applicable buy-out fee set forth in the lease.

7. Should I continue with my evictions?
The Las Vegas Justice Court has not ordered landlords to halt eviction proceedings. In conversation with administrators today they recognized the business need to perform evictions. Several clients have indicated an intent to increase usage of the partial payment non waiver agreement as a mechanism to limit the number of evictions filed. However, you should consider an approach that meets the business needs of your particular community. Landlords should not feel hesitant to file an eviction for non-payment of rent or on any other violation of the terms and conditions of the lease, especially those breaches related to the health and safety of the community or conduct that is criminal in nature provided your property is within the boundaries of the Las Vegas Justice Court precinct. All other clients will be required to stay evictions for the next 30 days for properties that are within the North Las Vegas and Henderson precincts.

8. Did POTUS suspend eviction actions and foreclosures?
On March 18, 2020, POTUS held a press conference in which he announced he would use the Defense Production Act to increase the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the press conference POTUS announced a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. This has been interpreted as a moratorium across the board. This interpretation is inaccurate. The moratorium is limited to HUD owned properties. We have contacted Senator Sinema’s office and have confirmed that this relates only to HUD properties and that the federal government does not have any authority to suspend evictions outside of HUD owned properties.

9. Can I ask a Tenant about their health when they place a work order?
Ordinarily under the fair housing act we should steer clear of these kind of inquiries. However, to promote the safety and welfare of the community and the landlord’s employees and/or vendors, inquiries specific to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely going to be permissible. Accordingly, you may inquire as to whether or not anyone in the household is experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. Regardless of the response, no further inquiry should be made. If the tenant responds in the affirmative to the inquiry, appropriate precautionary measures indicated in response to Question 9 should be taken.

10. Should I send maintenance into a tenant’s home during this pandemic?
The Department of Health and Human Services has not opined on this topic. Individuals who have been ordered quarantined by the Department are to be isolated. However, the Department has indicate there are some exceptions to that quarantine which include entries needed to “care” for the person being quarantined. Official guidance has not been provided at this time. We expect to learn more in the coming days and will provide additional information when available.

In the meantime, the obligations to maintain the apartment remain in place under the Nevada Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (hereinafter “Act”). Landlords will remain responsible for compliance with the maintenance duties under the Act. No tolling of these duties has been announced. As such, landlords should still respond to maintenance requests and complete repairs within the time period required by the Act. Landlords should also ensure that their maintenance team is adequately protected while entering an apartment by providing gloves and face masks where available. Employees accessing tenant homes should be encouraged to avoid any direct contact with tenants and should also thoroughly wash their hands after the completion of any work order request in any tenant unit.

11. Are there certain work order requests that take priority over others?
As indicated above, the COVID-19 pandemic has not resulting in the suspension of any of the duties outlined in the Act. Landlords are still required to maintain the premises in accordance with applicable housing and health codes as well as the provisions set forth in the Act. With that in mind, certain work order requests do not require immediate attention and may be performed at a later date. Work order requests related to the plumbing, heating, cooling, and pest control should take priority. Similarly, work orders related to inoperable door locks or broken windows or doors take priority and should be completed within five days of the landlord’s receipt of the request for repairs. All other work order request, specifically those related to non-essential items, should be noted and scheduled, however, the landlord should exercise caution in going in to perform these repairs and should consider delaying the non-essential repairs for the next two weeks. Landlord should communicate with all tenants and schedule repairs at a time that is suitable to both the landlord and the tenant.

12. Am I excused from sending maintenance into a tenant’s home who is confirmed to have COVID-19?
At this time office guidance has not been provided. The response to question 8 above remains applicable. We recommend that precautions be taken to safeguard the technician responding to the work order but, nonetheless, maintain that repairs are required under the Act and should timely be completed.

13. Should we continue with joint move-out inspections?
There is not statutory right to a joint move out inspection in Nevada. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, it is recommended that move out inspections be postponed or conducted in the absence of the tenant. If there are damages photographs with date and time stamps should be taken. Landlords should be mindful of the 30 day deadline under Nevada law for the return of any security deposit proceeds and the submission of an itemized report outlining deductions from the deposits.

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