Q+A: Apartment industry lobbyist talks about coronavirus challenges

A view of the City Center Apartments at 811 E Bridger Ave. in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

Susy Vasquez

Susy Vasquez

Gov. Steve Sisolak last week ordered evictions from residential and commercial properties suspended until at least April 30 because of the coronavirus emergency.

Susy Vasquez, executive director of the Nevada State Apartment Association, recently talked to Vegas Inc about what the order means for landlords and tenants. The association represents 667 communities with about 142,000 housing units.

Was the association in contact with Gov. Sisolak prior to the announcement of this directive?

Yes. Las Vegas Justice Court had already made the decision to hold off on evictions. With this, Northern Nevada, I think, is now on the same page as Las Vegas.

One thing this did do is it made the playing field even throughout the state. Now, nobody can file for eviction for nonpayment. We had communicated with the governor and the attorney general in stating that our members were already extending payment arrangements and doing what they could to keep people in their homes.

Our members don’t want vacant units, that’s for sure. We’re not in the business of managing vacant units. I think (legislators) listened to some of our concerns and put some into the directive, but we’re still worried about a few areas.

What are those areas?

We’re concerned that our members — our multifamily loans aren’t typically just directly through banks — get equal relief to what is being offered to renters. I know a number of our members have reached out to their financial institutions and haven’t heard anything back. That could just be because everyone is still reeling from what’s going on.

We’re hoping that, by the first week or two in April, we can all be on the same page. Hopefully, we’ll see how much relief we’re going to get on our end. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll ask for an amendment by the governor.

That relief, would it potentially come from the $2 trillion federal coronavirus aid package?

That’s the interpretation we’re taking from the CARES Act, which has some relief for financial institutions. We just don’t know if that relief applies to the banking institutions that we use. Obviously, the Federal Housing Finance Agency extended protections to those that have HUD-backed loans, which would be the low-income, tax credit federal housing communities. That, however, wouldn’t cover probably 80% of multifamily owners.

This, being a health-caused economic downturn, isn’t like your typical recession, if there is such a thing. What could you compare this to?

I think if we were to look at any scenario that fits this scenario, it would be when the government shuts down. We know that there’s relief coming, we just don’t know when that relief is going to hit. We’re not expecting this to take a decade to recover from, but we are expecting it to take a few months for us to get back on track.

Once we determine when everyone’s going to get relief from the federal stimulus package, we’ll know a lot more. I know the state COVID-19 task force in Nevada is also working on a state-level relief package. Right now, we don’t even know how many renters are impacted because not everybody is out of work. Most people, right now, can pay their rent.

Right or wrong, there’s often this narrative about well-off landlords who care only about on-time payments and renters who are left to fend for themselves during tough times. As you point out, however, many landlords are basically just small-business owners trying to make money on the side.

It’s true. Starting with our small owners, we have regular people like you and me. These are teachers, firefighters, seniors and first responders that have some money to invest and choose to invest it in real estate. They pick up a rental property or two. These are the people who are going to bear a large brunt of this eviction moratorium because they depend on their renter to be able to pay their mortgage. They didn’t necessarily get into the real estate “game.”

We’re looking out for those people because they’ve been placed in a difficult situation. We also have to look at all the new construction happening. They have construction loans, small margins, and they have to beat those timelines in order to get those projects funded and into a regular loan. There’s going to be a lull for lease-ups for those properties.

Now that renters and traditional mortgage-holders have been told by state leaders that they’ll get relief — and as you wait to see what options might be available to landlords — what are you telling your members and what renters should know?

The eviction moratorium is through the end of the emergency declaration and that could go longer than what it is now. We don’t know. The governor can amend in any direction he wants to in order to help our economy get back up to speed.

For renters, I’d just tell people to make sure to reach out to their landlords and property management offices. Let them know what your position is, but make rent your priority. We’re willing to work with you if payment is an issue. Remember, this isn’t rental forgiveness — people aren’t being released from their contractual obligations. You’re going to have to pay sooner or later, so it might not be the smartest thing to do to kick the can down the road unless you absolutely have to.