by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
LAS VEGAS — Amid skyrocketing rent rates across the state, the Culinary Union is proposing a ballot initiative that would focus on capping rent increases at 5% – but only in North Las Vegas.
Southern Nevada’s rent prices, which have shot up more than 20% in two years, have left tenants valleywide struggling to afford housing, and caused elected officials to broach the topic of rent control recently, though conversations haven’t materialized into action.
The Culinary Union announced Wednesday it plans to have its “Neighborhood Stability” initiative on the ballot of North Las Vegas voters for the November election and, if approved, the measure would come with a retroactive effective date of May 18.
The proposal would prevent rent increases in the city from exceeding cost of living increases and could not exceed 5% from year to year.
Lawmakers at the state and local level have sparred – each suggesting that it’s the other – over who has the responsibility and power to address the housing crisis and spiking rents.
Some Clark County officials have suggested Dillon’s Rule, a governance principle to which Nevada adheres that limits local powers to those expressly granted by the state, prevents them from taking action on their own.
But some state officials think a 2015 law gave counties a functional version of home rule that could potentially allow jurisdictions like Clark County to implement measures to stabilize rent rates.
It was unclear Wednesday whether the uncertainty about the legal ability for local government to cap rents would extend to an initiative passed by voters.
In an email, Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for the Culinary Union, said the initiative is legally sound and that the union was “prepared to take on any legal challenge.”
“Dillon’s Rule does not apply to initiatives passed by Nevadans,” she said. “The ballot initiative is direct action taken by the people and not subject to Dillon’s Rule.”
Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said on Wednesday that something has to be done now, which is why the union is bringing forth the proposal.
“North Las Vegans are being pushed out of their homes because of rent increases that are among the highest in the nation,” he said. “On top of 8 and a half percent inflation in gas and groceries, rising rents are a blow to working families who are still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Khan said more than 7,300 union members, 63% Latino and 18% Black, live in North Las Vegas, which is why the initiative is focused on the city first. When surveying members this year, nearly a quarter of them said rent had increased nearly $500.
The Culinary represents roughly 60,000 workers in in the state, the vast majority of them in Southern Nevada.
“We think we can win with this ballot initiative in North Las Vegas and use this measure to show elected officials that Nevadans want Neighborhood Stability,” she said. “Then we will work to get similar laws passed in City of Las Vegas, Henderson, Clark County, and other jurisdictions.”
Among those affected by rising rents is Aretha Wilder, a cocktail server who recently became a renter again after selling her home following a divorce.
Right now, Wilder pays $1,935 for a two-bedroom apartment for her and her mother, who is disabled. She already fears a rent increase once her lease ends.
“I work so hard and rarely take a day off just to make my rent every month,” she said, fighting back tears.
Wilder re-entered the renter market recently following a divorce and selling her home. Her plan was to take money she earned from the sale to buy a new home. She put in nine offers over the span of a few months and was outbid by cash offers.
“Trying to find an affordable place to rent was difficult,” she said. “In three months, I put in six different rent applications and paid the non refundable fees of $50 to $75 for each one, but I didn’t hear back from most of them.”
Legislation during the 2021 session attempted to put some regulations on application fees, but the bill died after Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui didn’t give it a hearing.
Though she eventually found a place, Wilder said “every rent payment is eating into the money I have been saving to buy a house.”
“My monthly rent is more than most homeowner’s mortgages,” she said. “That isn’t right.”
Pappageorge said rent prices in North Las Vegas have increased 28.5% since 2019 and blamed it on price gouging.
Large corporations, he added, “are buying large apartment complexes here in Las Vegas and across the United States.”
According to the union, the top 10 apartment owners in the state own 26% of total available units.
“Less homes for us to buy and also these corporate interests are raising rents through the roof. It is price gouging clearly,” he said. “We are going to do something about it.”
The proposed ordinance would apply to residential units except “for the first 15 years following the first rental unit constructed.”
The proposal also wouldn’t apply to units owned by the government, units owned by landlords who only own a single unit in North Las Vegas, rentals where the landlord provides reduced rent as part of a federal, state or local program, and residential properties divided into four units with one occupied by the landlord.
Landlords couldn’t increase rent in the first year or tenancy and would also have to give tenants a 90 day notice before increase.
Each January, the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Division would be required to publish the maximum annual rent increase percentage that reflects cost of living increases.
Suzy Vasquez, the executive director of the Nevada State Apartment Association, called the initiative short-sighted and warned of “far reaching consequences.”
“There are many tools available to our state lawmakers, local governments and housing advocacy groups which will result in more purposeful and long-term solutions,” she said. “There are many solutions in the pipeline right now and I am proud to say they have a very high probability of providing significant opportunities to stabilize our communities. The ballot initiative focuses on housing, but as we all know, the issues we face today encompass many areas and layers which also need to be addressed.”
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