Affordable housing advocates and renters in Nebraska recently secured a statewide tenant-rights package with the passage of LB320. The legislation combines seven of the fifteen bills introduced in the state’s 2021 legislative session to advance housing justice and includes protections for domestic violence survivors, improved rights for tenants facing eviction, and required reporting of eviction data.
Over the course of 2020, advocates across Nebraska began organizing in response to the multiple housing crises unfolding during the pandemic. Eviction courts remained open despite the moratoriums in effect, further complicating the fact that Nebraska is the only state where tenants are required to prove extraordinary cause to get a continuance. Further, tenants in quarantine faced landlords entering their home without notice, and landlords began charging excessive late fees and filing retaliatory evictions. Housing advocates, service providers, and other stakeholders came together to form the Nebraska Housing Advocacy Collaborative (HAC). Together, they developed priorities and legislation to address these issues, identified state senators to champion each bill, and utilized the HAC listserv to mobilize stakeholders across the state to participate in the legislative process.
An unprecedented number of official letters in support were submitted for each bill’s committee hearing. The landlord lobby brought opposition to each, but affordable housing advocates held firm, refusing to compromise on previously established priorities. The bills were packaged together under LB320, and State Senator John Cavanaugh agreed to designate the package as a priority once it passed out of committee. Advocates continued negotiations with legislators and generated calls and emails from stakeholders in key districts. As a result, LB320 met little opposition during floor debate and passed on a vote of 43 to 3 on April 29. The bill was signed into law by Governor Pete Ricketts on May 5.
LB320 provides both new and enhanced rights for renters in Nebraska. Survivors of domestic violence and other household members other than the perpetrator may now end a rental agreement early with no additional cost other than the current month’s rent. Additionally, the new law expands the list of acceptable documentation for protections from eviction to include the certification from a domestic violence advocate, providing an option for survivors to obtain eviction protection documentation outside the criminal legal system.
The housing justice package also provides tenants greater opportunity to defend themselves during eviction proceedings by requiring eviction filings to list a statutory reason for eviction; requiring diligent efforts to notify tenants of their eviction hearing; and allowing both tenants and landlords the opportunity for one good cause continuance instead of the previous requirement of tenants to prove extraordinary cause. It requires landlords to provide written notice at least 24 hours in advance before entering a tenant’s home, except in emergencies, and updates the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act to match the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, affording renters of mobile homes the same rights as residential homes under state law. Finally, LB320 requires the Nebraska State Supreme Court to report evictions data by county twice a year, allowing legal and social service providers to target aid and to inform future advocacy.
"Passing LB320 is a good step toward providing housing justice for renters in Nebraska. We know the system remains imbalanced, and we will keep fighting to make sure that every single one of our neighbors have a safe, affordable place to call home," said Dr. Erin Feichtinger, director of advocacy and policy at Together.
"The passage of 320 will be a game-changer in helping to ensure that families faced with eviction are given a reasonable opportunity to attend their hearing and present their case to the court,” said Ryan Sullivan, associate professor of law, University of Nebraska College of Law and co-founder of the Tenant Assistance Project in Lancaster County. “It will also clarify the laws governing the eviction process so that tenants will made aware of the grounds upon which they are being evicted, and the defenses that may be available to them. LB320 made a broken system slightly less broken.”
“We are extremely excited by the passage of LB320,” said Kasey Ogle, staff attorney for Collective Impact Lincoln, Nebraska Appleseed, “but we know this is only the beginning of the fight for housing justice in Nebraska. Nebraskans continue to face a shortage of safe and affordable housing, which heightens the risk of facing an eviction in an imbalanced system. We will continue to push for source of income protections, affordable housing development and preservation, and a right to counsel in eviction proceedings."
For more information about LB320 or the Nebraska Housing Advocacy Collaborative, contact Dr. Erin Feichtinger at: [email protected]