RENO, Nev. (News 4 & FOX 11) — A Reno councilwoman is asking city staff to look into an anti-gouging law to protect residents from huge rent spikes, which she says have become all too common in recent years.
Councilwoman Naomi Duerr said repeated calls from residents experiencing drastic rent increases prompted her to ask the city manager to discuss gouging at an upcoming city council meeting.
"It's unbelievably difficult. In one day, I was called by three constituents. One had a $200 rent increase, one a $500 rent increase and one a $900 rent increase - all in one step. None of these people could cope with that."
One man who reached out to News 4-Fox 11 said his landlord initially proposed to raise his rent from $1,339 to $2,300 — a 72% increase. (He chose not to be identified for this story out of fear of repercussions, since he ultimately was able to negotiate a smaller rent increase in his current apartment.)
But under current state and local laws, nothing can be done except try to bargain with your landlord.
That's why Reno established a tenants advisory board in late 2019. The board, spearheaded by councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, was specifically tasked with addressing the problem of rent gouging.
Public records obtained by News 4-Fox 11 show that the Tenant Issues and Concerns Citizen Advisory Board, as it was officially known, met just once before the COVID-19 pandemic and has not met since, despite other boards resuming in-person and virtual meetings months ago.
"It's disappointing. It's frustrating. But it's also understandable. Very few boards were able to meet during the pandemic, Duerr said.
In a statement, city staff blamed COVID-19 for the initial pause in meetings and a staff shakeup for why the board hasn't started up again.
"During the shutdown, the staff liaison responsible for the management of the TICCAB left their employment with the City of Reno," the statement read, in part. City officials wrote that staff are working to schedule a meeting in November, but if a meeting isn't held, city council members will soon decide the next steps for the board, which is set to sunset this month.
Duerr said her call for an anti-gouging ordinance wasn't directly in response to the lack of tenant board meetings, but said it was because the issue has 'lost momentum' in the last two years.
In the meantime, the housing crisis has only deepened. According to Johnson Perkins Griffin's quarterly apartment survey, the average apartment rent in the Reno-Sparks metro area jumped to a record-high $1,632 in quarter 3 of 2021, which represents a 21% increase from quarter 1 of 2020.
Duerr said she doesn't see rent control as a possible solution, but instead supports an anti-rent gouging ordinance to rein in some of the most drastic year-over-year rent increases.
"What we want to do is make sure that we don't see these exorbitant increases. Anybody, I think, would agree that a 50% increase in one step is too much," Duerr said.
Rent control would restrict artificially what people could charge. In my mind, what anti-gouging is is dealing with an emergency, which we are facing. We have a housing crisis.
She hopes the initial discussion on the city's legal authority to enact a gouging law will be scheduled for a December council meeting, and hopes council members could be voting on such a law in early 2022.
"This is your most basic necessity. Food, water, housing. We've got to figure out a way that housing can be sustainable for all," she said.
Below is the city of Reno's full statement. A city of Reno staff member was not made available to comment on this report.
The City of Reno’s Tenant Issues and Concerns Citizen Advisory Board (TICCAB) was created in 2019 with an intended lifespan of two years, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of this month (November 2021).
In February 2020, the TICCAB held its first and only meeting. Soon after, Governor Sisolak issued our state's emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suspending our board and commission meetings from approximately March 2020 through May 2021. Additionally, during the shutdown, the staff liaison responsible for the management of the TICCAB left their employment with the City of Reno.
The City reinstated board and commission meetings in June, and staff have been working with the chair and co-chair of the TICCAB to conduct a meeting sometime this month. During this meeting, the TICCAB will create a path forward and later review it with the Reno City Council, setting the direction for the year ahead. If the chair and co-chair are unable to participate this month, then we will bring it forward to the council for a discussion on the next steps.
Email reporter Ben Margiott at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BenMargiott on Twitter and Ben Margiott KRNV on Facebook.