Inside a Las Vegas courtroom last week, renters and landlords battled over evictions that continued at a brisk pace despite a last-minute, two-month extension of the federal protections meant to keep people in their homes.
Vanessa Merryman, 41, was among the tenants ordered to leave her apartment. “I have never been homeless in my life,” she said through tears. “I do not know what I am going to do.”
The federal moratorium on evictions — combined with billions of dollars in rent subsidies — was supposed to avert the scenario of millions of Americans being turned out of their homes after they lost their jobs during the pandemic and were unable to afford their rent.
Yet despite these efforts, many local governments and courts were not sure how to apply the extension, and desperate tenants continued to flood local government websites seeking rental assistance that was usually slow in coming.
“The lay of the land has been confusing at every level, not just to tenants, but also to landlords, court personnel and judges,” said Dana Karni, the manager of the Eviction Right to Counsel Project in Houston.
In extending the moratorium last week, the Biden administration hinged it to high local coronavirus infection rates — the idea being that protection was warranted in areas where the virus was surging. Clark County, including Las Vegas, was among hundreds of counties that meet the criterion for high infection rates, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines gave some leeway to judges to instead apply state laws, which at times allowed for evictions.