Lombardo tries to pin housing woes on Biden after vetoing bills and naming ex-housing lobbyist as chief of staff

AP Photo/John Locher, File

By Mark Credico

March 21, 2024

The Nevada Housing Justice Alliance accused the governor of passing off responsibility for the housing crisis to Biden while “foregoing in-state options that threaten to anger his largest donor, billionaire Robert Bigelow.”

Nine months after vetoing affordable housing and renter protections bills, and three months after appointing a former property management company lobbyist as his chief of staff, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday asking the president to help address the state’s housing crisis.

The governor urged Biden to convey federally-protected land to Nevada to develop homes to address the state’s affordable housing shortage, claiming in the letter that the federal government prevented his administration from taking action, because 85% of Nevada land is federally owned and managed.

“To address the housing crisis, the State of Nevada and our local communities need to access the land that is within their respective borders,” Lombardo wrote.

But Lombardo vetoed five bills in the 2023 state legislature that involved affordable housing and renter protections, including bills that would have granted powers to cities to work on affordable housing, eliminated hidden fees, and protected tenants applying for rent assistance.

The Nevada Housing Justice Alliance criticized Lombardo’s letter to the president following last year’s vetoes in a press release on Wednesday. The group accused the governor of passing off responsibility for the housing crisis to Biden while “foregoing in-state options that threaten to anger his largest donor, billionaire Robert Bigelow.”

Bigelow contributed to Lombardo’s gubernatorial campaign through political action committees and donations from various businesses and holding companies.

According to the secretary of state’s database on campaign contributions, the billionaire gave over $8 million to the Better Nevada PAC and over $4 million to the Stronger Nevada PAC, both of which worked to elect Lombardo in 2022.

“Governor Lombardo’s open plea to President Biden is myopic and shows his complete unwillingness to respond to Nevada’s housing crisis in a meaningful and lasting way,” Ben Iness, coalition coordinator of the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance, said in the statement.

Lombardo has other ties to the housing industry, as well.

At the end of 2023, Lombardo appointed Ryan Cherry to be his chief of staff at the start of the new year. Cherry previously worked with the offices of Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson and Sen. Dean Heller, and also worked as a lobbyist during the 2023 legislative session for four companies, including National Apartment Management, LLC, according to the Nevada Legislature lobbyist site.

National Apartment Management, LLC, is a limited liability company registered in Nevada that is also a subsidiary of Big Rock Equities, a real estate conglomerate that owns three apartment complexes in Las Vegas, according to its website. National Apartment Management handles Big Rock’s “multi-family asset management” and manages over 4,300 properties in six states, according to Big Rock’s website.

Lombardo also received $10,000 in campaign contributions last year from Steve Rayman, whose address on the governor’s campaign contributions and expenses report is the same address listed in the Nevada Legislature lobbyist site for National Apartment Management LLC. Rayman’s address is also the same as the one listed in the Nevada business portal for the two trusts of Big Rock executives that are labeled as “managing members” of the LLC.

The Nevada governor additionally received campaign contributions from multiple developers and real estate companies last year, according to the report submitted to the secretary of state’s office. This includes $5,000 from American Homes 4 Rent LP, a rental real estate company officially called AMH that, according to its website, offers homes for rent in 24 neighborhoods in the Las Vegas Valley.

He also received $10,000 in campaign contributions from the Nevada Realtors PAC; $6,000 from the Gardner Group, a commercial real estate company with projects in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada; $10,000 from Donna Ruthe, owner and broker of Today’s Realty Inc.; $10,000 from David DelZotto, the founder and CEO of Remington Nevada, a real estate development company; and $10,000 from Remington Homes Ltd, among other donors.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lombardo’s letter to Biden came one day before the president’s visit to Nevada. During a speech at the Stupak Community Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Biden vowed to address the housing crisis by investing in building more affordable housing options, lowering rent and mortgage costs, and supporting first-time homebuyers through financial aid programs.

“We need housing that’s affordable,” Biden said.

In his letter and in media interviews, Lombardo has said he wants to address the state’s housing woes, but also said this month that he does not regret his vetoes last year, even as housing advocates argue they would have curbed the housing crisis by protecting tenants and allowing local governments to pass affordable housing policies.

Senate Bill 371 would have allowed for cities and counties to enact any measure relating to affordable housing. Lombardo vetoed the bill in June, saying in his veto letter to the secretary of state that the bill’s “excessive broadness” would leave the law “exposed to constant legal challenges.”

Senate Bill 335 would have protected renters from being evicted for not paying rent while waiting for a rental assistance application and required landlords to accept rent payments supported by rental assistance. Lombardo vetoed it in June, saying it would “create onerous burdens in Nevada’s residential renting market” by making it more difficult and costly to evict “non-compliant tenants,” in his veto letter to the secretary of state.

Assembly Bill 340 would have overhauled the eviction system in Nevada, requiring landlords to file evictions with the court first, before approaching tenants. Lombardo vetoed the bill in June, saying in his veto letter that the bill would “impose additional and unnecessary delays and costs” on landlords looking to remove tenants, and that the bill would make Nevada “an inhospitable environment for residential lessors,” if passed.

Assembly Bill 298 would have required rental agreements to list out and explain all additional fees within the rental agreement, made it illegal for landlords or management to charge renters additional fees that aren’t listed, and required landlords to return some fees to applicants if they rented the unit to someone else or did not carry out the duties specified by the fee, such as returning a cleaning fee if they never cleaned.

It also would have prohibited landlords from renewing or entering into new leases that would increase tenants’ rent by more than 10% from July 2023 to the end of 2024, and banned landlords from collecting fees or conducting background checks on minors that would live in units. Lombardo vetoed the bill at the start of June, saying it was “an unreasonable restraint on business activity” in his veto letter. The governor complimented the bill’s intentions in the letter, but also called it “needlessly heavy-handed” and “too rigid in its approach to pre-contract lessor practices in his veto.

Senate Bill 78 would have required landlords to deliver an itemized receipt of how they used former tenants’ security deposits if they did not return the deposits after the tenants moved out, required a grace period for late rent payments before landlords can charge late fees, and required all fees to be listed and explained in the rental agreement.

It also would have required landlords to give advance notice about increases to rent or fees, to let tenants know about changes in management within 10 days of the changes, and prohibited landlords from transferring tenants’ debts without giving tenants itemized lists of their debts, among other actions, if passed. But Lombardo vetoed the bill in June, saying in his veto letter to the secretary of state that the bill’s “wide-ranging changes” to accounting practices, fee collection, disclosures, and notice requirements would “only serve to exacerbate an already challenging period for Nevadan renting families.”

 

  • Mark Credico

    Mark Credico is a born-and-raised Las Vegas native. He graduated from UNLV after writing for the school newspaper, then spent a year writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal covering local government and breaking news.

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