Our President's Message
We just testified at the state capitol last week on bills of concern to our members and our industry. The one main bill of concern is LB1115. This bill would change the current state law that now calls for a bench trial for eviction proceedings. The bill would give tenants an option of requesting a jury trial for evictions. The United States Constitution guarantees all of us the right to a jury trial in civil court. In Nebraska, evictions have been regarded as not falling under that constitutional right because an eviction is for restoring possession of property to the owner after defaulting on a lease for non-payment of rent.
The Nebraska Supreme Court has warned that this idea of a right to a jury trial is likely to be upheld the next time it comes before them. Senator Dungan introduced this bill to prevent a court decision voiding our Landlord Tenant Act from being either thrown out entirely or the eviction section being thrown out as unconstitutional. Either one would be chaotic for our businesses. In that regard, the Senator is trying to help us. The problem with a jury trial for an eviction court proceeding is the additional time it takes to have a jury trial.
Traditionally the bench trial in front of just a judge is an expedited process. This gets our property back to income-producing as soon as possible. Because a jury trial will take weeks or months longer than the current system the Senator agreed to add an addendum to his bill that would provide for a payment from the tenant for the rent amount in dispute. This would at least give us some assurance that if we win the trial the rent is on deposit with the court for us to be paid. Most eviction trials are for non-payment of rent so this might be a good compromise. For other lease violations, a tenant could get a jury trial with no money put up with the court. I am guessing that most juries will be biased toward tenants. This would likely add to our rent losses and result in fewer damage costs being collected from tenants.
Either way, if this bill passes and or if the Nebraska Supreme Court changes the Landlord Tenant Act to allow jury trials, we will have higher costs. We will have one more reason to raise rents to stay in business. Another big effect of this bill's passing is the huge increase in the judicial workload. More judges and more administrative costs for counties will increase taxes across the state but mainly in Omaha and Lincoln. The other bill worth mentioning is one that was introduced by Senator Rob Dover on our behalf. It is LB1312 which if passed would allow tenants to opt for receiving notices from us by email or other electronic means.
The language in the bill mirrors recent changes in the law regarding the insurance industry. So, we know the language is likely to be acceptable to Senators. It should be a no-brainer to get this change passed. So many of our younger tenants don’t even use regular mail service. This would streamline the process of notifying tenants and bring us into the 21st century. For you who came to the Capitol in support of our industry and or sent your emails to the committee before the hearing, thanks for supporting our efforts to protect our industry and your own business. Stay tuned for new developments or new information on how these and other proposed new laws are moving or not moving through the legislature this session. We plan to stay proactive in the legislature and fight for our private property rights.