Landlord and Tenant Handbook
*The information in this handbook is not meant to substitute for the advice of an Attorney. You should speak with an Attorney regarding your specific problem.
The State of Nebraska has laws regarding landlord and tenant relations, obligations and rights. This handbook is intended to let you know what your rights and obligations are as a tenant. But, these laws are complicated and sometimes hard to understand. So, if you remember nothing else from this book, please remember this: as soon as you think you may have a problem with your landlord, or the place you’re renting, call a lawyer. THE SOONER THE BETTER. If you cannot afford a lawyer, call the numbers listed on the following pages depending on which county you live in. If you are renting, or thinking about renting a house or apartment, this book was written for you.
This handbook applies to both houses and apartments that you may rent. For convenience sake, both houses and apartments will be referred to as "units."
WHERE TO CALL IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS?
If you live in these counties:
SARPY CALL: (402) 348-1060
DODGE Office Location: 500 So. 18th Street, 3rd Floor
WASHINGTON Omaha, Nebraska 68102
BEFORE YOU MOVE IN
If you are thinking about renting a unit, make sure the place is acceptable to you before you move in or give the landlord any money, unless your landlord agrees IN WRITING to repair any defects by a certain date. If you decide to move in, make a list of all defects, no matter how small (dirty walls, scratched furniture, broken windows, etc.), before you move in or as soon as you move in and ask the landlord to sign off. If he will not sign the list, then make a copy of the list, sign and date both copies and mail one copy to the landlord. This will protect you if the landlord claims later that you did the damage. If you want to know more about your rights as a tenant or if you are having any other problems with your landlord, it is important for you to get in touch with a lawyer. The Legal Aid offices listed in the Introduction give free legal advice to people who cannot pay a private lawyer.
There are basically two types of rental agreements:
1. Written rental agreement - generally called a
2. Verbal rental agreement - if you did not sign a written lease before or after you moved in then your rental agreement is a verbal one.
Leases are legal contracts and the people who sign those contracts can be held to them or be made to pay damages if they don't. When you sign a lease, you are bound by its terms, SO BE CAREFUL. Before you sign a lease, get a copy of it from your landlord. If your landlord won't give you a copy, rent somewhere else. Take the lease home and read it VERY CAREFULLY. If you don't understand it, get someone to help you read it. Make sure you understand the lease completely before you sign it. Once both you and the landlord have signed the lease, its terms cannot be changed unless both you and the landlord agree to the changes. Any changes to the lease should be put in writing and both of you need to sign the agreement. If there are parts of your lease that you don't like, ask your landlord to cross them out before you sign. If he won't agree, then you must decide whether you are still willing to rent the unit. If not, you should look for some other place to rent and refuse to sign the lease.
Make sure you check for the following items in your lease:
1. Length of time the lease is effective. Many written leases are for one year, but the lease can be for a shorter or longer time.
2. Number of people who can live in the unit. Many leases specify the names or the number of people who may live in the unit under the lease. If you think someone else will be living in your unit, be sure to tell your landlord and get his written permission.
3. Pets. Many leases do not allow pets.
4. Amount of Rent. Make sure the amount of your rent is exactly spelled out. Be sure you are able and willing to pay the rent required. Many leases list the total amount of the rent due under the entire term of the lease; if your lease contains this type of provision, make sure your landlord tells you in the lease the amount due each month for rent.
5. Absence. The law requires that you notify your landlord if you are going to be away from your unit more than seven (7) days. Make sure you tell your landlord before you leave how long you will be away. If you do not tell him, he may think you have abandoned the unit and he can move your things out and rent the unit to someone else while you are gone.
6. Utilities. Make sure your lease says whether
the landlord are required to pay for utilities (gas, water, electricity).
7. Repairs. Inspect the unit before you sign the lease. Your landlord is required by law to keep the place in good repair. If he promises to make repairs before you move in, write out on the back of the lease what repairs will be made. Then both of you sign it. You are responsible for any damage that you cause.
8. Finally. If you decide to sign the lease, make sure both you and the landlord sign the lease and keep a copy for yourself.
The Nebraska Residential Tenant Act requires landlords to do the following:
1. Your landlord has a duty to make repairs on your home. He must obey the city/local housing code.
2. No unit may be rented until it contains safe heating equipment which heats the WHOLE unit.
3. All homes must be clean, sanitary and fit for human occupancy.
4. All foundations, floors, walls, ceilings, and roofs must be reasonably weatherproof, watertight and rodent proof.
5. All stairways, approaches, and entrance ways shall be safe to use and capable of supporting people.
6. Your landlord must keep in GOOD WORKING ORDER any appliance, air conditioners and other facilities which were in your unit when you rented it or which the law requires your landlord to supply to you.
If your unit was built before 1978 your landlord has a duty
to inform you of any known lead-based paint hazard existing in the unit. Your landlord must also give you informational materials regarding lead based paint and what you should know about it. If your landlord has not provided you with these materials, contact your local health department.
The Nebraska Residential Tenant Act requires tenants to do the following:
1. Pay the rent on time.
2. Give a written notice to the landlord when you are ending the lease or repairing the unit. The notice should be sent certified mail, with a return receipt requested.
3. Keep the unit clean and safe, and in compliance with the local city housing codes.
4. Use the facilities in a reasonable manner.
5. Dispose of all garbage in a clean and safe manner.
6. Be responsible for any damages done to the unit by the tenant or the tenant's guests.
7. Not interfere with their neighbors' peaceful use of their property.
8. Give the landlord written notice of any needed repairs or problems with the unit.
FAILURE TO REPAIR
In areas with a minimum dwelling code, your landlord has the duty to keep your unit in a condition that meets the requirements set forth in that code. If you feel that your unit does not meet the requirements of the minimum dwelling code, you may call the code enforcement office and ask for a code inspector to come out and inspect your unit. In Omaha, there is a local ordinance that states that an inspector may not come out to your unit to inspect unless the tenant has given the landlord a fourteen (14) day notice of the problems (see sample letter A). The code office will ask if you have done this before they will send an inspector out. The tenant can have someone contact the code enforcement office for them. As long as it is not the tenant calling, the code inspector can be sent out immediately.
In most other areas of Nebraska, you do not need to send a fourteen (14) day notice to the landlord before you call the code inspector. Check with the Legal Aid office for your area for the correct procedure.
If your landlord is refusing to make needed repairs, there are two options you need to consider. Both options require that you give your landlord a fourteen (14) day notice, informing him in writing of what needs to be repaired before you can take any further action.
1. The law allows you to file suit against your landlord to get money damages and to force him to fix the property. This is the option you may wish to consider if you wish to stay in the unit. If this is the option you wish to pursue, you would use sample letter B (in the back of this book).
2. You can break your lease and move out of your unit after thirty (30) days if your landlord continues to refuse to make the repairs. If this is the option you wish to pursue, you would use sample letter A (in the back of this book).
In either case, make sure you keep a copy of the letter for your records. Make sure you send the letter to your landlord "certified mail, return receipt requested." It can also be helpful to take pictures of the problems, as they can be very useful in court.
YOU HAVE A LEGAL RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT NEEDED REPAIRS TO YOUR LANDLORD OR THECITY HOUSING INSPECTORS!
If you join a tenants group or complain to the local code enforcement office about your unit, your landlord cannot legally try to get back at you by:
1. Raising your rent.
2. Evicting you or threatening to evict you.
3. Cutting off your essential services (gas, water, electricity).
WHAT IF THE UNIT IS NOT READY?
When you first move into your unit, if it is not in compliance with the lease or if you discover problems that you didn't know about before you moved in or you are not allowed to move in on the date agreed upon, you may give the landlord written notice that you will end the lease in five (5) days. This action is only good if the unit is not in compliance with the lease or the Minimum Dwelling Code when you first move in or if you are not allowed to move in on the agreed upon date. If problems develop later, you must use the 14/30 day notice procedure described in the section regarding failure to repair.
WHAT ABOUT FIRES OR FLOODS?
If your unit is damaged by fire or some other serious damage that is not your fault, and if that damage seriously affects your ability to live there in a normal way, you may move. You must notify your landlord in writing within fourteen (14) days after you move, that you are ending the lease. If you do this, you will not owe any rent from the day you move out.
Your landlord CANNOT legally make you leave your unit unless:
1. He complies with the notice terms of your written lease (if you have one) and complies with the notice provisions required by law.
2. He gives you a written thirty (30) day notice to move if you rent month-to-month. The notice must be given at least 30 days before your next rental payment is due.
3. He gives you a written seven (7) day notice if you are a roomer and rent week-to-week.
Your landlord CANNOT legally:
1. Padlock your door or change your locks to keep you out of your unit.
2. Throw your property out or put it on the street.
3. Cut off your water, electricity or gas.
In order for your landlord to evict you from your unit, he must go to court FIRST and go through the eviction process. Your landlord must get an order from the court allowing him to evict you before he can have you removed from your unit. An officer from the court will come to your unit if the court issues an order putting you out. If the landlord tries to put you out himself, CALL THE POLICE!
WHAT IF THERE IS AN EMERGENCY?
If you are without an essential service which the landlord agreed to provide, such as hot and cold running water, electricity, gas, etc., give your landlord a written notice of the problem either in person or by certified mail. Give this notice to your landlord as soon as the problem develops. If your landlord fails to fix the problem, you can:
a) Get the service restored yourself (be sure to keep your receipts).
b) Find another place to stay until your landlord furnishes the services. You don't have to pay rent for those days when you could not live in your unit.
c) See a lawyer. You may be able to get three (3) month's rent or damages for the trouble caused by your landlord's willful violation of the law by refusing to fix the problem.
Your landlord can require you to pay a security deposit but it cannot be more than one (1) month's rent unless you are allowed to have a pet and actually have one. If your rent is $200.00 per month, your security deposit cannot be more than $200.00. If you are allowed to have a pet and you actually have one, your security deposit can be 1 and 1/4 months’ rent. In this case, if your rent is $200.00, your deposit could not exceed $250.00.
Your landlord may keep your deposit money after you move out only if it is necessary to cover damages that were done by you or to cover back rent not paid by you. Damages may include cleaning fees. So, if you move out and leave the place a mess, the landlord may deduct the costs of cleaning the unit. Normal wear and tear caused to the unit is not damage for which the landlord may keep your deposit.
GETTING YOUR DEPOSIT BACK AFTER YOU MOVE
To get your deposit returned after you move, you must demand in writing that your landlord return your deposit. Send him a certified letter (sample letter C) demanding the return of your deposit, and keep a copy of the letter for yourself. Make sure your letter states a good address where the landlord may send the deposit. Your landlord must return your deposit within fourteen (14) days after you request it. If any of your deposit money is not returned due to damage, you are entitled to know: a) exactly why the money is being held; and b)receive an itemized list of what the money was spent on. If your landlord does not respond, you can sue him for the return of the deposit. Small claims court allows you to sue for the return of your deposit without needing a lawyer. Take your copy of your demand letter with you and the receipt showing the landlord picked up his certified letter demanding the deposit back.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO THE RETURN OF YOUR
1. Leave the unit clean. Make sure you have witnesses who can say the place was clean when you left. Take pictures.
2. If there is damage to the unit when you move in, make sure the landlord knows it. Make a notation on the lease or on another paper to be signed, stating that the problems listed were there when you moved in, and then you should not be charged for these things when you move out. Remember, if anything is severely damaged when you move in, make the landlord promise to fix it before you move. Get this promise in writing.
3. If anything happens to the unit while you are renting it, report it immediately to the landlord. Write a note or letter; keep a copy for yourself; be sure it is dated; and be sure the landlord knows that it wasn't your fault.
You have an obligation to pay the full amount of your rent when it is due. Unless your lease says otherwise, your rent is due on the first day of each month. If your landlord has not told you where to pay your rent, it is payable where you live. However, you should ask your landlord where to send the rent. ALWAYS get a rent receipt if you pay in cash or money order. If you pay by check, keep your canceled checks showing you paid your rent. Make sure the receipts that you get are accurate!
WHEN CAN THE LANDLORD RAISE YOUR RENT?
If you have a written lease, the landlord cannot raise your rent during the term of the lease. If you have a verbal rental agreement or a month-to-month written agreement, your landlord may raise your rent by giving you notice at least thirty (30) days before your next rent payment is due. If you pay on the first of the month, he must give you notice on or before the first of the preceding month.
EVICTION FOR NON-PAYMENT OF RENT
If you are behind in the rent, the landlord must give you a three (3) day notice for non-payment of rent. This is NOT A NOTICE TO GET OUT; it is only a notice that you must pay your rent in full within three (3) days, plus any late charges or he will terminate your rental agreement. If you pay the rent in full within three days, it must be accepted and you cannot be evicted for not paying that rent. This notice does not have to be notarized, given to you by the sheriff, or written in any special form. It just has to say you must pay your rent in three days or the landlord will end your rental agreement. If you do not pay your rent within the three (3) day notice period, your landlord may file a suit in court asking that you be evicted.
If your landlord goes to court to evict you, you will receive a Summons from the court telling you that you have been sued and when to appear in court. The Summons will also have a date on it called an answer date. You must file a written answer with the court by this date or your landlord will take a default judgment against you for what he feels is the amount of money that you owe him. The answer date will most likely be after the initial court appearance date. If your landlord files suit to evict you, get a lawyer immediately. The first hearing is only to determine if you should be evicted. If you file an answer, there will be a second hearing to determine what, if any, amount of money you owe the landlord. If you do not want your landlord to take a default judgment against you, you must file a written answer with the court on or before the answer date shown in the Summons. Many county courts have answer and general denial forms that you can use.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, call Legal Aid. If you lose in court, the judge will order you to move. If you do not move, the constable will come out and evict you within ten (10) days of the day your court hearing is held. You are not guaranteed the full ten (10) days before the sheriff comes to evict you; he may come out the very next day or he may wait the full ten (10) days, it is up to the constable and the judge. Usually, you will have four (4) or five (5) days before the constable comes. But remember - if you offer to pay your rent any time before you go to court and if your landlord accepts the rent in any amount, he cannot continue with the eviction. Be sure to keep the rent receipt. If the rent is accepted but the landlord is still trying to evict you, get a lawyer or call Legal Aid.
WITHHOLDING YOUR RENT
No matter what complaints you have about your landlord or your place, never stop paying your rent unless your lawyer tells you to do so. If your lawyer advises you to stop paying your rent, FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY. If your situation allows you to withhold your rent, your lawyer will tell you; unless your lawyer tells you to withhold your rent, don't withhold it! There are some circumstances which allow a tenant to take some of the rent money and use it for repairs. However, the law is unclear as to just exactly when a tenant is allowed to do this. therefore, you should contact a lawyer before deducting the cost of repairs.
CAN YOUR LANDLORD MAKE YOU MOVE EVEN IF YOU PAY
If you have a verbal rental agreement or a month-to-month written agreement, your landlord can give you thirty (30) days notice that he is ending your lease. He may end your lease even though you may be performing all of your duties as a tenant. He must give you written notice that he intends to end your rental agreement at least thirty (30) days before your next rental payment due date. If you have a written lease, it may specify additional procedures which your landlord would have to follow. However, your landlord may not try to evict you just because you complained about repairs or took actions such as reporting violations to the City Housing inspectors, or joining a tenant group. This is called a retaliatory action and is illegal.
TAKING YOUR LANDLORD TO COURT
If your landlord refuses to repair your unit or comply with the Minimum Dwelling Code, you may not owe rent. He has a duty to keep your unit in good repair in return for collection of rent. You may have the right to go to court and collect damages from your landlord. Your landlord cannot take or hold any of your possessions such as your TV or your furniture as payment for rent.
IF YOU GET SUED
See a lawyer! Even if your landlord tries to evict you, you can take your lawyer with you to court and tell the judge about the condition of your unit. You can ask the judge to give you damages and force your landlord to repair your unit. You can ask the judge to dismiss the eviction case because you may not have the duty to pay rent due to the bad condition of your unit. The landlord has the duty to keep your unit in repair in order to collect rent. You can pay your rent to the court until the case is over and/or the landlord repairs your property. The judge has a right to decide how much, if any, rent you owe to your landlord at the end of each case.
WHAT ABOUT MY PROPERTY
If you get evicted or move out and leave your property behind the landlord may charge you fees for storing the property and if necessary moving the property out of the unit. The landlord must give you a written notice to claim the property and pay the fees. If the notice is personally delivered to you, the landlord must give you at least seven days to pay the fees and claim the property. If the notice is mailed to you, the landlord must give you fourteen days from the time the notice was deposited in the mail to pay the fees and claim the property.
Once the time to claim the property has expired the landlord can sell the property at a public sale. The landlord may deduct from the proceeds the cost of storage and the cost of advertising the sale. The landlord must then return the remaining proceeds to the tenant if available or to the state treasurer if the tenant is unavailable.
If the landlord reasonably believes the property to be worth less than two hundred and fifty dollars ($250.00) the landlord may, when the property remains unclaimed after giving the proper notices listed above, keep the property for his own use or dispose of the property in any manner he chooses.
IF YOU GET EVICTED GET YOUR STUFF OUT OF THE UNIT IMMEDIATELY, PUT IT IN STORAGE OR MOVE IT TO A FRIENDS HOUSE!
WHEN CAN YOUR LANDLORD ENTER YOUR UNIT?
The landlord may enter your unit:
a) to inspect it
b) to make repairs
c) to show it to future tenants
d) to show it to prospective buyers
e) in the case of an emergency (fire, broken water pipes, etc.), your landlord can enter immediately.
In all cases except emergencies, your landlord must give you twenty-four (24) hours' written notice of the intent to enter your unit and then he can only request to visit at REASONABLE times (midnight is not a reasonable time). The landlord may enter your unit if you have been away for more than seven (7) days. He may only enter at times reasonably necessary. Your landlord must notify you one (1) day before every visit to your unit. If he doesn't or if he continues to bother you, you have a right to go to court to stop it. You can collect damages and a fee for your lawyer. Be sure to see a lawyer right away.
Minorities, families and the handicapped have the same rights to housing as everyone else. If a landlord discriminates in renting housing based upon a person's race, color, religion, national origin, or because the person is handicapped or has children he is breaking the law. Both Nebraska and Federal laws forbid such discrimination. If you think that the landlord will not rent you a unit or is trying to evict you because of any of these illegal reasons, you can file a complaint with the Human Relations Department in your city or with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. Also, the Fair Housing Center can help you with these complaints, they can be reached at (402) 444-6675.
Sample Letter A (14 day notice to fix or terminate)
Re: (Your unit address and #)
Pursuant to the Nebraska Residential Landlord Tenant
Act, I am giving you notice of certain repairs that need to be done.
They are : (list repairs)
These defects affect my family's health and safety and were not caused by me or my family. You have a duty to make these repairs under state law and under the Housing Code of the City of ___________________ (insert city name). You have a duty to make these repairs and if they are not taken care of in fourteen (14) days of receipt of this letter, I will terminate my tenancy and move out thirty (30) days from your receipt of this letter.
______________________ (your signature)
Sample Letter B (14 day notice to fix or call code inspector)
Re: (Your unit address and #)
Pursuant to the Nebraska Residential Landlord Tenant
Act, I am giving you notice of the following defects or conditions that
need to be repaired within fourteen (14) days after you receive this letter:(list
These defects affect my family's health and safety and were not caused by me or my family. You have a duty to make these repairs under state law and under the Housing Code of the City of ___________________ (insert city name).
If the listed repairs are not made or the conditions corrected I will contact the code enforcement office for the City of ___________ and request that this unit and property be inspected. I will also pursue my other legal remedies. I hope we can resolve this problem.
______________________ (your signature)
Sample Letter C (Demand for security deposit)
Re: (Your unit address and #)
Pursuant to the Nebraska Residential Landlord Tenant
Act, I hereby demand that you refund my security deposit in the amount
of $_____. My security deposit can be refunded to me at the following
address: ____________________________________________. The deposit
should be refunded to me within fourteen (14) days. If the deposit
is not refunded in full, you must provide me with an itemized list of all