At this rate
Renters wonder who will address concerns of spiking costs
Brooke Noble has lived in Reno for about a decade—and in the same one-bedroom apartment for four years. As a longtime renter, she’s used to the fact that apartment units often go up a bit in cost from year to year. But this year, she was shocked by just how much.
“There’s an annual increase, but it’s usually, you know, 50 dollars or something that it goes up,” she said. “So this year when it went up 350 dollars at once, I was a little surprised.”
Actually, surprised doesn’t cover it. When Noble found out her rent was going up nearly 44 percent at once—from $750 to $1050—she was outraged and turned to social media and local news outlets to talk about it. On April 26, she talked with television station KTVN—explaining that she’ll have to move from the neighborhood she loves and relocate near Verdi. Noble feels like she’s losing more than the place she calls home.
“This is just where my friends are, my community,” she said. “Pretty much since I moved to Reno, I’ve lived in this neighborhood. I know a lot of people in this immediate area, a lot of the neighbors, the people around here. And everybody in this building has been pretty close. We play board games and barbecue. We’re those kind of neighbors.”
Or they were. According to Noble, after she went on television, the neighbors in her four-unit apartment complex were given notices of non-renewal on their leases. Save for one person, they, like Noble, must all find new places to live by the end of the month.
“Actually, my upstairs neighbors’ rent was not going up as much, and they were going to accept the increase,” Noble said. “But after the KTVN story, everybody got an email that their leases weren’t going to be renewed. So there was previously an offer to extend the lease, and then, after the KTVN story, they retracted that from everybody and gave everybody 30 days.”
Noble also received another notice that day—a cease and desist from attorney Mark Smallhouse, the legal representation for Erica Mirich and Sean Martin, the landlords. The letter argues that the rent increase on Noble’s unit is in line with current market trends for the area. It reads in part: “It is unfortunate that you have personally attacked Ms. Mirich by sending untrue and libelous emails to Ms. Mirich’s employer Truckee Meadows Tomorrow. You have also threatened additional personal attacks on Ms. Mirich and Mr. Martin by going to the press and threatening to go to the Reno’s Mayors [sic] Office.”
The letter ends by stating that further actions by Noble would be met with legal action by her landlords. Asked for comment on the cease and desist letter, Smallhouse responded via email, writing, “Yes, I did send a letter to Ms. Noble. Unfortunately, she was paying significantly below-market rent for her apartment in the Midtown area. Her lease was due to expire, and my client, who purchased the building during the last lease term, sought to raise the rent to its current fair market value, and was planning a number of improvements to the complex. Ms. Noble lives in a 4-plex. My client has rented other units in the 4-plex at a higher rate of rent, and has had a waiting list for those units. The increase in rent was based upon surveys of similar rental units in the area.”
After receiving the letter, Noble did to go to the City of Reno with her concerns, though not to the mayor’s office directly.
“I took this issue to City Council and to Oscar Delgado,” she said. “And his office called me back and let me know, you know, the city is actually powerless on doing anything about rent control or rent stabilization—or anything to control the rents in this town. They told me their hands are tied.”
The City of Reno is among many municipalities in Nevada that hold the view that the addition of clarifying language within Nevada Regulatory Statutes is necessary to authorize them to take action on affordable housing. It is the position of legal counsel for the State of Nevada that existing law already allows cities and counties to pass affordable housing policies such as inclusionary zoning and rent control without approval from the state. That’s because existing law already “authorizes a board of county commissioners or the governing body of an incorporated city to exercise powers necessary or proper to address matters of local concern, whether or not such powers are expressly granted to the board or governing body.” But the legal counsels of some cities and counties disagree.
Senate Bill 398, sponsored by Senator Julia Ratti, is intended to address this. The bill, which has made it through the Senate and is now in the Assembly Government Affairs committee, would amend state statutes to specifically include affordable housing as a matter of local concern. Asked for the city’s position on whether this clarifying language is necessary, Director of the Office of Policy and Strategy Dylan Shaver made the following statement:
“The City of Reno supports any legislation that enhances or clarifies our ability and authority to provide service to our Reno family. Affordable housing has hit our city hard, and SB 398 aims to give local governments broader authority to address this policy challenge at the local level. While lawyers can debate about the specific need for legislation like this, the bill itself will bring clarity that this is an issue that cities play a big role in fighting.”
Noble said she’s hoping SB 398 will pass, though she doesn’t think it’ll be a magic bullet for the affordable housing crisis. Her new rental unit is smaller and cheaper, and she’s thinking about using the money she’ll save to eventually put a down payment on a condo.
“That might be the way I go—because I don’t know if things are going to improve,” she said. “Even if this bill does pass, what is it going to be like to get a resolution passed through city council, and what is that going to look like? Are rents going to go down? Are they going to be capped? I don’t know what’s going to happen.”