LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — As Las Vegas ramps up for the end of restrictions and a full-strength reopening, we're also bracing for a flood of evictions.
13 Investigates shows there's a whole process to evictions and it'll keep the courts busy.
What are renters to do and are courts prepared to weather the storm? We spoke with a chief judge to get answers.
"We're three months behind on rent and we've been trying to pay what we can," says local resident Rodney Fife.
Likes thousands of others, Fife lost his income due to the pandemic shutdown.
"We have bills to pay," says Fife. "I have a disabled wife that takes a lot of my income to make our health needs. So, yeah, it's a tough situation."
Fife says his landlord has been gracious. But he understands what the end of the eviction moratorium means.
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure we're going to get an eviction notice," Fife said.
He applied for rental assistance with CHAP, the county's housing assistance program, but he was denied and is appealing.
Officials are hopeful the Nevada Eviction Prevention Program fueled by CHAP money will stem the tide of renters who may soon get kicked out. But no one's certain how massive the influx of evictions might be.
"It's really hard to say," says Las Vegas Chief Judge Melissa Saragosa. "I mean, we're doing the best to be prepared and have the capacity to hear cases, but without knowing exactly how many cases are coming in, that's very difficult to say."
Saragosa says through the pandemic, they've worked on various scenarios, anticipating a surge in filings.
The question becomes: How much of a backlog could that create? A week? A month? Six months?
"I don't anticipate anything even remotely close to six months!" Saragosa says.
For perspective, the pre-pandemic eviction caseload at Las Vegas Justice Court was about 30,000 cases a year. But the massive shift to all things done remotely, that's true for the courts too.
"We've changed our model from a very in-person driven process to one that's working online," says Saragosa.
She says they're reorganizing caseloads, assignments and calendars.
"We're cross-training all of our legal office assistants, our legal office specialists, we're cross-training those individuals to help us process the eviction paperwork," says Saragosa.
And with Las Vegas Municipal Court moving out of the Regional Justice Center and into their new building there's more space.
"We now have additional courtroom space that we're able to dedicate to hearing just evictions," Saragosa says.
Fueling her optimism that they can increase eviction hearings nearly threefold.
"I think we're going to see ourselves go from the capacity to handle about 30 to 35 evictions a day, to close to about 90 a day in terms of hearings," Saragosa says.
It's important to remember, the eviction process is in place to serve both tenant and landlord.
So, here's what Saragosa wants all parties to know as Las Vegas returns to a more familiar normal.
One: Go to the court websites for proper forms instead of making your own or pulling random forms from the internet.
"It is so much easier and faster for my clerks to review forms that come from the court and that they know have been approved by the court," she said.
Two: Take advantage of the new ways to prepare online.
"The electronic filing is as simple as using your phone," says Saragosa. "It really is quite amazing what we've been able to accomplish this last year with electronic filing, alleviate that trip to the courthouse, finding parking, paying for parking, coming in, waiting in lines. If you can take advantage of the electronic, please do."
But if you can't, there's help downtown.
"The Civil Law Self-Help Center is manned by volunteers as well as paid staff. They anticipate being able to have 11 different individuals helping at a time with the filing of any documents," she said.
A final message for both parties is one that's hard to hear but reflects reality.
"I would say be patient," says Saragosa.
Renters like Fife understand landlords are running a business and need to be paid, so he's not looking to cheat the system. He just wants understanding and a little more time.
"I've really never been on welfare or needing help like this before. I've always been employed; I've always found income," Fife says. "If we are caught up in, you know, three months or caught up, we'll be fine because I could find ways to make an income."
If your case is with Henderson Justice Court, you still need to file in person see here.
In North Las Vegas, they're in the process of setting up an e-file. If you need help, call the court. More information here.
Las Vegas Justice Court Civil Law Self-Help Center see here.