Tuesday, March 14, 2017 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — Nevada renters who are victims of sexual assault, stalking or harassment would be legally allowed to break their lease early with no financial penalty if a bill heard Monday by a Nevada Assembly committee is passed into law.
Assembly Bill 247, proposed by freshman Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, expands the scope of a current law that applies to victims of domestic violence. That law, passed in 2013, says landlords must allow victims of domestic violence to break their lease if a police report or court-issued protective order is presented to the landlord within 90 days of an alleged attack.
“The real motivation here is to make sure victims are not forced to stay in rental properties where they are not or do not feel safe,” Yeager said Monday before the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor. “Lack of money should not serve as a barrier to safety, especially when it pertains to these types of crimes.”
Victims sharing a rented property with their abuser would be able to break their portion of a lease, leaving the perpetrator with the full bill, Yeager said.
Yeager said victims in the proposed bill wouldn’t cause a burden to Nevada landlords because vacancy rates in the Silver State have fallen in recent years. In 2016, vacancy rates for Nevada rental properties stood at 5 percent, down from 8 percent in 2015. Comparatively speaking, the national average for rental vacancies was 7 percent last year.
According to Yeager’s bill, landlords affected by victims who cut their lease short would also have the right to bring civil lawsuits against the accused assailants to recover any damages from losing a renter.
Yeager said the current law has been used by domestic violence victims “more often that I would have thought,” but he did not have numbers to back his claim, nor projections for how many future victims AB247 would impact.
Most questions from committee members were aimed at the bill’s effectiveness in protecting victims, its fairness to landlords and potential fraud that could be committed by renters taking advantage of the measure to file fraudulent police reports as an easy way out of a lease.
Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Reno, questioned the addition of harassment to the law, which includes “any kind of bodily threat” against a person by another person per Nevada statute. He argued that such a category was “pretty broad.”
Hansen said he was concerned about the absence of statistics to quantify the number of domestic violence victims and landlords impacted by the current law, as well as the lack of projections for the number of people who could be affected under the new categories added.
“Isn’t harassment automatically considered under domestic violence?” Hansen asked. “I just wonder how many cases this would affect.”
Speaking in favor of AB247, Metro Police representative Chuck Callaway reiterated that only an official, filed police report would be valid under the proposed bill, not merely a note from police to landlords. Callaway added that filing a police report that is inaccurate or misleading is a misdemeanor crime and that people hoping to take advantage of the law to break their leases would be charged with a crime.
Representatives from the Nevada State Apartment Association, the Nevada Association of Realtors, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association and the Nevada Veterans Association also spoke during Monday’s hearing in support of AB247. No one spoke in opposition to it.