Bringing Order to Chaos: Reviving Uniformity and Balance Within Nebraska’s Rental Housing Laws
In 1973, the Nebraska Legislature was presented with the opportunity to adopt the Uniform Residential Landlord & Tenant Act (Uniform Act).1 The Uniform Act sought to “simplify, clarify, modernize, and revise the law governing rental of dwelling units and the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants” as well as improve the quality of housing, and make housing laws more uniform.2 The Unicameral delayed adoption for a year, and in the interim, that thoughtfullycrafted, balanced, and uniform set of proposed laws was eviscerated through one-sided amendments pushed through by landlord and real estate lobby groups (Real Estate Lobby).3 The final product (Nebraska’s Act) bore some modest resemblance to the Uniform Act but retained almost none of its stated intent. The amendments were so disjointed and haphazard that the legislature likely could have generated a better product had it simply drafted the laws from whole cloth.
A recent critique of Nebraska’s Act (Critique) provides a comprehensive review and analysis of the legislative history that led to the Frankenstein-esque compilation of laws that Nebraska unabashedly refers to as a “uniform act.”4 The Critique described how the legislature amended or struck thirty of the forty-three sections of the Uniform Act before adoption and passed a laundry list of other landlordfavorable amendments in the decades that followed.5 The Critique also examined the series of recent amendments adopted by the modern Legislature in an effort to rectify the missteps of the 1974 legislation, and urged the Nebraska Legislature to continue these efforts to bring uniformity, balance, and some semblance of fairness to an otherwise disjointed, lopsided, and unjust conglomeration of laws.6
In the role of a sequel, this Article picks up where the Critique left off, shifting the focus from scrutinizing the Act to proposing solutions to mend it. This Article contains a series of proposals aimed to revive the original intent of the Uniform Act, and to account for the legal, societal, and economic evolutions and revolutions that have occurred in the fifty years since the Uniform Act was promulgated by the Uniform Law Commission. In the mid-1970s, lack of affordable housing was not the crisis it is today, where so many Americans find themselves perpetually susceptible to eviction because baseline wages have not kept up with the cost of housing.7 Exacerbating the issue is the current shortage of affordable housing, both in Nebraska and nationally. 8 These shifts in the rental housing environment necessitate reflection not only on Nebraska’s existing laws, but also on the uniform laws proposed in the 1970s, which—although perhaps suitable then— seem out of touch today. In fact, in 2015, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) developed a revised Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (Revised Act) aimed at addressing some of the oversights in the prior set of laws, and to modernize certain provisions to better suit the current rental housing ecosystem.9
Set forth below are a series of proposals aimed at recalibrating Nebraska’s Act to realize a level of fairness more aligned with Nebraska values, and more attentive to the economic realities faced by tenants and landlords.
Bringing Order to Chaos: Reviving Uniformity and Balance Within Nebraska’s Rental Housing Laws,
101 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol101/iss1/7