Over the next few weeks, the Mountain West News Bureau is taking questions from listeners across the region about the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have a question, email us at email@example.com or give us a call at 208-352-2079 and leave us a message. This service is powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.
Jesus and his family rent a home in Reno, Nevada. But their landlord recently put that house up for sale in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The realtor has put up a sign and has wanted to enter my home on several occasions," he says.
Jesus, who didn’t want to use his last name because he's worried there could be repercussions from his landlord, is concerned that the realtor or prospective buyers may carry and spread the novel coronavirus to his family. Afterall, COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to three days. So he's wondering whether he has any legal rights to postpone showings and walkthroughs until after the pandemic is over.
"The answer is maybe," says Rita Greggio, supervising attorney for the housing and consumer unit at the nonprofit law firm Washoe Legal Services.
Real estate agencies are considered an essential business in Nevada under the governor's stay-at-home order, so they can remain open and serve customers while following social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same is currently true across much of the Mountain West.
Under Nevada state law, a tenant "shall not unreasonably withhold consent for the landlord peaceably to enter into the dwelling unit" to show it to prospective buyers and realtors.
But Greggio says a pandemic like this changes things.
"How reasonable is it to have multiple perspective buyers coming in and out of the property at a time when we know we are not supposed to be exposed to others," she says. "We are supposed to keep our distance."
Taking that into account, Greggio explains that a tenant like Jesus could stop open houses during the crisis.
"In the end, a court could view a tenant's withholding of consent reasonable given the overall circumstances," she says.
According to a recent National Association of Realtors survey, about 40 percent of realtors have already halted hosting open houses, and the industry group has advised sellers to give them a second thought. It also encourages realtors to use alternative marketing strategies, such as virtual tours via Skype or Zoom or three-dimensional, interactive property scans.
"You are never required to put yourself at risk in servicing a client," the industry group's guidelines on COVID-19 state. "Have an open and honest conversation with your client about your concerns with holding an open house at this time, including whether doing so would contradict current government recommendations or mandates, particularly in geographic areas with 'shelter in place' mandates."
If you're having a similar issue with a landlord, you can contact the following nonprofit legal services.
Northern Nevada: Washoe Legal Services at 775-329-2727
Wyoming: Legal Aid of Wyoming at 877-432-9955
Colorado: Colorado Legal Services at coloradolegalservices.org
Utah: Utah Legal Services hotline at 801-328-8891
New Mexico: New Mexico Legal Aid hotline at 505-633-6694
Montana: Montana Legal Services Association at 800-666-6899
Idaho: Idaho Legal Aid Services hotline at 208-746-7541.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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