A Nebraska residential rental lease agreement is a legally enforceable agreement that sets out the duties and obligations of a tenant and the landlord and includes notifications, procedures and notices. Every rental agreement should be in writing to avoid disputes over what was agreed or relied upon and so that a court, if necessary, can determine if a breach has occurred and who was responsible.
Landlords have basic obligations and are required to provide a fit and habitable residence, or one that has basic essential services and that complies with the state and local building and housing codes.
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As landlord, you must comply with state and federal laws regarding discrimination in housing. In other words, you may not refuse to lease a unit to anyone based on race, color, gender, creed, religion, national origin, family status or disability. You may refuse to rent to rental applicants because of their poor credit, insufficient income, lack of good references, a criminal record or history of evictions.
Your landlord obligations include the following:
- Comply with all housing and building codes regarding or affecting tenants’ health and safety
- Perform repairs necessary to keep the unit in a fit and habitable condition
- Maintain common areas and keep them safe and free of trash and waste
- Provide essential services including heat, running and hot water, plumbing, electrical, sanitary, ventilating and air conditioning systems
- Provide trash receptacles and the method of pickup or removal
Some units or buildings are not required to have landlords provide heat, running or hot water or where the leased unit is constructed so that the tenant has exclusive control and responsibility for these utilities.
You also must not “retaliate” against a tenant who has joined a tenants’ union or who has filed a complaint with a governmental agency regarding the condition of the premises or your conduct in maintaining it. This means you may not raise the rent, threaten the tenant, shut off services, or evict the tenant. Although the statute is silent on how long you are barred from at least raising the rent on a monthly lease or terminating it, most states use 6-months. Of course, you can terminate the lease if the tenant fails to abide by the lease in other respects.
Tenants have basic obligations:
- Comply with minimal standards of health and safety as set forth in the applicable housing and building codes
- Abide by the terms of the lease and pay rent on time
- Do not intentionally damage, mar or alter any part of the premises
- Keep the unit clean and sanitary and properly dispose of trash and waste
- Use appliances and services such as electricity, fuel, plumbing, heating and all other services in an appropriate manner and as intended
- Abide by any terms of a condo or housing cooperative or association that do not conflict with the duties and rights of the landlord
- Obey the law
- Do not disturb the right of other tenants to the quiet enjoyment of their leased units
Terms of the Nebraska Lease
There are some mandatory provisions in your rental agreement as well as those you may consider including those that address common situations that arise in a landlord/tenant arrangement. The following terms should be in your lease:
- Name of owner and property manager who is authorized to manage the property, address where rent is to be paid and request for repairs are to be directed; address and identity of person to whom legal documents and notices are to be served (required term)
- Names of the tenants and other occupants and if children are allowed—have all adult tenants sign the lease so that both are jointly and severally liable for the lease terms, including the rent
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Amount of rent, due date—state a grace period and amount of late fees—you may ask for prepaid rent to use if the tenant vacates with rent still outstanding
- Returned check fees—$10 plus any handling fees charged to the landlord by the bank
- Security deposit—no more than 1 month’s rent; no interest required or that funds be deposited in a separate account; advise tenant that the funds will be returned within 14-days of tenant vacating unit to a forwarding address or submit a written, itemized statement with specific reasons for withholding deposit by mail with return receipt requested within this time—you should provide and have the tenant sign a record of the inventory and condition of the premises when the tenant takes possession; recommend that you do a mutual inspection a short time after the tenant vacates with check-out list
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance and of services—Rules of conduct that fairly apply to and promote the convenience, safety or welfare of all tenants and preserve the landlord’s property–if adopted after the tenancy begins, the tenant should consent to the rule(s) in writing
- Obligations of tenant as noted above—you may require the tenant to perform specific repairs, maintenance and minor remodeling if it does not diminish the obligations of the landlord
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No commercial, business or unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance or is unlawful
- Pet clause—may limit type of pet, weight and require tenant to clean up pet waste in common areas; may charge a deposit of no more than one-quarter the rent
- Subletting clause
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers or if the tenant has been causing a disturbance or is otherwise violating the lease—24-hours’ notice required and entry at reasonable hours; indicate that you may enter immediately if it is an emergency
- Notify landlord if absence from unit is to be 7 days or longer
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, other lease violations—3-days for nonpayment of rent and 30-days for other material violations
- Notice for increasing rent—30-days in advance of the rent due date in a monthly lease (may not be for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose)
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
Do not include the following in your lease or you may be subject to damages if you attempt to enforce them:
- Waiver of statutory and other civil remedies available to tenant
- Waiver of right to sue landlord for negligence or to recover damages
- Authorize a person to confess judgment on any claim arising out of the lease
- Allow landlord to evict tenant without a court order
- Allow the landlord to enter without notice at any time
- Charge more than the maximum allowable for security deposit
- Alter the notice and other procedures for return of the security deposit
- Lockout the tenant for failure to pay rent absent a court order
Security Deposits in Nebraska
Nebraska law limits you to charging no more than one month’s rent as security deposit. It may be used to pay for damage to the premises that exceeds normal wear and tear or for outstanding rent. You are allowed to require the tenant to prepay rent to be set aside if the tenant vacates with rent still owing.
There is no requirement that the deposit be in a separate, interest bearing account. In any situation where you demand a deposit, consider giving the tenant move-in checklist with inventory of the appliances and furnishings provided and the condition of the premises and allow the tenant time to review it before signing. Provide a copy for the tenant and yourself.
Upon the tenant giving up possession, you have 14-days to return the deposit or submit an itemized statement detailing the damages and the cost of repair. Having a mutual inspection of the premises shortly after the tenant vacates can reduce the possibility of any disputes over the condition of the premises.
Termination of the Lease
With any lease that has a fixed term or date of expiration, it terminates on the date provided. Neither you nor the tenant can terminate the lease without cause before it expires. You should ask your tenants at least 30-days before the expiration of a fixed term lease whether they wish to remain or vacate. If they remain, the lease can either become a month-to-month or you can ask that a new lease be signed.
If you want to increase the rent, give 30-days’ notice before the fixed term agreement expires or before the next rental payment is due for a monthly lease.
For monthly leases, either you or the tenant may vacate upon 30-days’ notice without cause. For weekly leases, a 7-day notice is required.
For nonpayment of rent, you must give a 3-day notice to vacate but allow the tenant to remain if the rent is paid in full by the third day. If you begin eviction proceedings after 3-days as permitted, you have the option of allowing the tenant to remain if the rent is paid. Should you accept partial payment, you may have waived your right to evict the tenant unless you state in writing that such acceptance is not a cure for the tenant’s violation of the rental provision.
For all other lease violations, serve a 30-day notice specifying the term breached with the condition that the tenant cure the violation or breach within 14-days or the tenant must vacate or face eviction proceedings. If the identical violation occurs again in the next 6 months, serve another 30-day notice specifying the term breached with the provision that the tenant vacate in 14-days with no opportunity to cure the breach along with the date that the lease will terminate. It is your option if you want the tenant to remain if the violation is remedied.
If the tenant does vacate with rent outstanding, you have a duty to mitigate your damages by finding a suitable replacement tenant. When you do, the obligations of the original tenant regarding the rent owed for the remainder of the rental term will stop. Your failure to make any reasonable efforts may minimize your damages.
Under the Servicemembers Relief Act, any tenant who is a member of the Armed Forces including any of the uniformed services can terminate a fixed term lease if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days. The tenant must provide you with a copy of the orders. This also applies if the tenant is ordered to reside in government-supplied quarters. 30-days’ notice is required and the tenant is responsible for the remainder of that month’s rent, if any, but with no further obligations under the lease. The lease will terminate 30-days after the notice is given.
Withhold and Deduct Rent by Tenant
If after having been given notice by the tenant and a reasonable time to provide or restore essential services such as heat or hot running water and you fail to do so, the tenant has several remedies:
- Procure the services and deduct the cost from the subsequent rent
- Recover damages based on the diminution in the fair rental value of the unit
- Procure substitute housing and not be obligated to pay the rent; the tenant may charge for the substitute housing if the landlord’s failure to supply such services was deliberate but not more than the amount of the periodic rent along with attorney’s fees
If necessary repairs are not done after you were given written notice of the repairs needed and that you had 14-days to comply, the tenant may opt to terminate the lease 30-days from the date of the notice. The tenant may also contact a housing agency to inspect the premises and an inspector may order you to make the repairs. Other remedies if the tenant chooses to not terminate are the same as above for “Withhold and Deduct.”
Be sure your Nebraska residential lease agreement comports with state laws and any local ordinances. Do not include terms that conflict with state laws or are unreasonable or you may be liable to the tenant for damages. If you have any questions regarding your rental agreement, contact a Nebraska landlord/tenant lawyer.