Friday, Aug. 5, 2022 | 2 a.m.
A proposal to cap rent increases in North Las Vegas failed to move forward — for now.
The Culinary Workers Union’s effort to put a rent control measure before the city’s voters on the November ballot was downed in a 4-1 vote Wednesday night by the North Las Vegas City Council. Council members determined the initiative didn’t receive the required qualified signatures.
The union’s Neighborhood Stability proposal would prevent rent increases in North Las Vegas from exceeding the cost of living, capping it at no more than 5% per year.
Thinking they needed signatures from 15% of voters who participated in the most recent city election, organizers gathered 3,396 signatures. That was seven times the assumed amount, based on total voters in the June 11, 2019, municipal election. Turns out, the requirement is all elections, which meant the primary election in June became the standard.
“You’re telling me that I can start with one set of rules, with one finish line to look at, and when I get there that finish line moves?” Las Vegas resident Kubura Johnson said at the packed meeting full of members of the union and concerned residents. “It extends? It doesn’t make sense.”
But the city had to follow the state statute, City Attorney Steven Silva said, which said the petition signatures must be based on the last election. The city council does not have the legal ability to change the laws that were put in place 60 years ago, City Councilwoman Pamela A. Goynes-Brown said.
“I do support rent control,” Goynes-Brown said. “I do agree that something needs to be done to help the folks that are struggling in our state. Just because of inflation and lack of affordability. It’s just not right that so many residents work so hard, and you still can’t make ends meet.”
“The item today, however, is not about the merits of rent control,” Goynes-Brown continued. “The only thing we as a council can consider today is whether this petition meets the legal threshold to be used to advance the rent control initiative. … It pains me to say that the proper process wasn’t followed.”
The union is planning to file a lawsuit in Clark County District Court to challenge Wednesday’s vote.
“The Culinary Union will undertake every legal avenue to ensure that North Las Vegas residents have the right to vote,” Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said in a statement, “including going all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court if necessary. The Culinary Union will enforce our constitutional rights and keep fighting to ensure that the people of North Las Vegas’ votes and voices are heard.”
Residents in North Las Vegas and throughout the state are seeing steep increases in their rents.
In North Las Vegas, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,395, a 13% increase from the previous year and 47% over the past month, according to Zumper, a national rental company based in San Francisco.
Even if the Culinary Union’s lawsuit fails, North Las Vegas residents and Nevadans as a whole haven’t seen the last of the proposal.
In Reno, where rent for a one-bedroom increased by 8% from the previous year, the city council has said it doesn’t think it has the authority to impose rent control and called it a state issue.
Other cities, such as Las Vegas, haven’t discussed the issue. It hasn’t been discussed in the Las Vegas City Council meetings, said Jace Radke, a spokesperson for Las Vegas. A request for comment from the city of Henderson went unanswered.
It is debatable who has the jurisdiction to institute rent control. Prior to 2015, Nevada’s “Dillon’s Rule” held that local governments could only exercise powers that were expressly granted by the state. But the 2015 Legislature changed the rule to give counties the authority to address “areas of local concern,” which includes matters of public health, safety and welfare and development in a county.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has been vocal in his support of the Culinary Union’s ballot initiative and has said that the Legislature could take up rent control at the next legislative session, in 2023.
“We’ve made needed progress expanding housing affordability through the Home Means Nevada program, but we have more work to do,” Sisolak said in a statement shared by the Culinary Union. “As long as I’m governor, I will continue doing everything I can to keep taxes low, raise wages and make our communities and state more affordable for everyone.”
On the national level, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in 2019 proposed anti-poverty legislation that included a 3% cap on rent increases. The bill died with no action taken.