Prohibition on evicting children, school employees proposed

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Jan. 31 on a bill that seeks to protect certain residents from being evicted during the school year by amending the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

Sen. Megan Hunt
Sen. Megan Hunt

LB845, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would prohibit evictions during the school year for residents who are enrolled in school or an early child care program, school employees or parents. A parent could include a stepparent, adoptive parent, guardian, foster parent or custodian. The measure would apply to both public and private school students and employees.

Under the bill, landlords still could file evictions, but qualifying residents would have an affirmative defense that they are exempt from evictions during the school year. The bill would not apply in instances when an eviction is sought due to a tenant’s engagement in criminal activity.

Hunt said her proposal is a “big idea” that aims to address multiple challenges in Nebraska, such as the lack of affordable housing, child care availability and the emotional well-being of children.

“This bill would simply lessen the traumatic impact of having to relocate and find housing during a time [when] young children most need stability and consistency, and when we need our teachers and school staff to be able to come to work and do the best for our kids,” she said.

Lee Heflebower testified in support of the proposal on behalf of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Children experiencing eviction are more likely to become homeless, she said, and more likely to switch schools as a result, which can impact their academic performance.

“Children are more likely to have lower academic achievement and delayed literacy skills when they experience high rates of residential instability or homelessness,” Heflebower said.

Also testifying in favor of the measure was Katie Nungesser on behalf of Voices for Children in Nebraska. Stable housing is essential to the well-being of school-aged children, she said, and being evicted can impact their ability to do well in school.

“Evictions are not just legal proceedings,” Nungesser said. “They leave lasting scars on a student’s academic success and emotional development.”

Several opponents of the bill said it essentially would require property owners and landlords to put their own livelihood at risk by allowing people to live in their rental units for free.

Lynn Fisher opposed the bill on behalf of the Statewide Property Owners Association and Nebraska Realtors Association. Tenants who do not pay their rent should not be shielded from having violated the private contracts or leases that they entered into, he said.

“Whether the tenant includes children, students, teachers — [it] doesn’t matter,” Fisher said. “Being a member of a protected class doesn’t remove private contract responsibilities.”

Also testifying in opposition to the measure was Rick McDonald on behalf of the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association. Landlords aren’t causing children to be evicted or poor education outcomes, he said, parents or the adults in the household are.

“This isn’t going to cure the problem with the kids and parents having to move,” McDonald said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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