Republic Services of Southern Nevada has threatened nearly 150 client homes with foreclosure over overdue waste bills since early 2020, demanding both money owed and the firm’s attorney fees, court records show .

In most cases, customers owed the waste disposal company less than $ 5,000 due to overdue invoices and associated late fees. But his attorney fees can cost thousands of dollars more, said Peter Aldous, attorney for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

The company increased the annual number of foreclosure lawsuits it filed against homes between 2018 and 2019, and again in 2020, he said.

“I think it’s extremely disproportionate to take someone’s house for a very small amount of money,” said Aldous, who is part of the Legal Aid Center’s consumer rights project. “During a pandemic where everyone is struggling, I would expect to see a decrease in the number of these cases, not an increase.”

Only a handful of the cases filed by the services of the Republic since 2020 have resulted in a court-ordered lockdown, according to the files. More than 90 have been made redundant, which Aldous says likely means that an out-of-court settlement has been negotiated.

Republic Services declined to be interviewed or to answer written questions about the foreclosure lawsuits or the repayment options it offers to late-paying customers. However, a representative for the company defended the practice of suing for foreclosure in an emailed statement.

“Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that customer accounts are overdue to the point that the Republic must exercise its authority to impose a privilege of property in order to ensure eventual payment for services rendered,” the statement said.

Republic Services is the only company licensed to collect solid waste in the Las Vegas Valley. State law requires that he continue to pick up a customer’s garbage, even if he does not pay his bill, for public health reasons.

Instead of suspending service at failed properties, state law allows the company to periodically place liens on them.

The liens must be paid for a homeowner to sell their property or refinance their mortgage, Aldous said. Republic Services may also attempt to foreclose on the home at any time after filing a lien.

It’s similar to how homeowners associations in Nevada can initiate foreclosure proceedings if homeowners fall behind on their association dues. Banks routinely foreclose homes if a mortgage is not paid off, although state and federal authorities have ordered such foreclosures stopped during the pandemic.

The bans did not apply to seizures of waste or HOA privileges, Aldous said.

Republic Services placed liens on more than 99,000 individual properties between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, county spokesman Erik Pappa said. An almost identical number of properties have received privileges in each of the previous two years.

Foreclosure lawsuits have increased

Republic Services has filed a growing number of foreclosure lawsuits in Clark County District Court and Las Vegas court in recent years, Aldous said.

Republic Services filed around 90 foreclosure lawsuits against homes owned by an individual or a trust in 2020, down from less than 70 in 2019 and less than 40 in 2018, according to Aldous. This year, he has already filed more than 50, most of them for invoices totaling less than $ 5,000.

“It seems they are resorting to this foreclosure remedy much more often and for much smaller amounts than they should be,” Aldous said.

Some of the company’s most indebted clients facing foreclosure lawsuits had outstanding liens dating back more than a decade, while others spanned two or three years, according to records.

Aldous said it was not clear why the company was choosing certain properties for foreclosure. One trend he’s noticed is that homeowners have already filed for bankruptcy.

This was the case for Yusleysi Guzman-Batista, a Las Vegas resident, who owed Republic Services around $ 600 when a lawyer representing the company emailed her in March.

The correspondence demanded that she pay the full amount, plus an additional $ 2,300 in attorney fees. Signing up for a repayment plan for up to six months would cost him an additional $ 550.

“I am unable to negotiate the above numbers to any degree,” the lawyer wrote in the email, giving him a week to respond.

“(The lawyer) told us that if we didn’t give him an answer by then, he would go straight to court to have our house seized,” Guzman-Batista said in an interview translated from Spanish.

The 42-year-old mother-of-two said her husband lost his job as a truck driver during the pandemic and most of their unemployment checks were used to pay off the mortgage on their house. Court records show the family filed for bankruptcy in November.

Republic Services had placed two liens on her home, saying she had missed payments as early as September 2019, records show. She went to the Legal Aid Center for legal assistance after receiving the email.

Guzman-Batista said the company never offered him a repayment plan before the email. The liens on her home were released in May, after she paid her bill and attorney fees using pandemic stimulus checks received by her family.

“That’s why we were able to pay this request. Otherwise we could have lost the house, ”she said. “I feel bad because I had to use the money they gave for my children.”

Republic service charges

Republic Services charges less than $ 20 per month for regular garbage collection services for residences in Las Vegas.

But customers face additional fees when the company files liens with the county. For example, each of the two privileges Guzman-Batista received for six months of unpaid bills cost over $ 300.

Company liens have a “super priority position,” meaning that debts would be among the first to be paid by the proceeds of the foreclosure sale, even before the owner’s mortgage.

Aldous said that in some of the cases that were settled and dismissed, the owner’s mortgage company agreed to pay Republic Services. In this scenario, it is common for the home mortgage to be increased to cover the cost of the lien and attorney fees.

For anyone falling behind on their bill, “the best advice I have is to contact Republic (Services) and make a payment agreement with them,” Aldous said, before the company files liens. or threat of foreclosure.

Las Vegas resident Rose Parker could lose her home for 25 years over an unpaid bill of around $ 1,850.

The 68-year-old said she stopped working as a home health aide in 2017, following a back injury and a diagnosis of breast cancer. She receives $ 2,000 a month in Social Security benefits, which she spends largely on her mortgage, groceries, medical bills, and insurance for the car she uses to get to physical therapy.

“When you’re done with that, you really don’t have much of anything left,” she said. “I made payments on it, but I can’t reach the amount they want at once.”

Republic Services had placed liens on her home for years, some of which Parker said she had paid off over time. She also used the money from her stimulus check to reduce her balance.

She said the company did not offer her a repayment plan before filing the foreclosure lawsuit in district court. She is now responding to the trial with the help of a volunteer lawyer after contacting the Legal Aid Center.

“I think that’s pretty cruel, because they don’t care if I have a place to live,” she said. “I have nowhere to go.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at [email protected] or 702-477-3861. To follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter. El Tiempo editor Anthony Avellaneda contributed to this report.