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Legislative Updates: Nebraska

Posted By USFN, Monday, May 1, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, April 18, 2017

May 1, 2017

by Camille R. Hawk
Walentine O’Toole, LLP
USFN Member (Nebraska)

Joining the VPR Ranks in a bigger way? In 2014, Lincoln enacted its Vacant and Abandoned Property Ordinance (VPRO) under the “Registration of Neglected Buildings” ordinance [see Ordinance No. 20058, Sec. 21.09.010 through 21.09.170]. Omaha followed in late 2015, with its own VPRO [see Ordinance No. 40565, Sec. 48-141 through 48-162]. The state legislature took notice and, in January 2017, LB256 was introduced to specifically and statutorily authorize communities to enact VPROs within certain guidelines. LB256 has been amended by AM452, and the Urban Affairs Committee has placed it on General File. While not yet law, it is worth reviewing.

If passed, this legislation would not apply to cities of the metropolitan class (population 300,000+; i.e., Omaha) or cities of the primary class (100,000-299,999; i.e., Lincoln). It would allow the covered municipalities — namely cities of the first class (5,001-100,000), second class (801-5,000), and villages (100-800) — to enact these ordinances to register vacant properties, collect fees to offset the public expense, monitor the rehabilitation progress, and promote occupancy. The legislation applies to both residential and commercial properties, and the property must be vacant or show evidence of vacancy.

Evidence of vacancy means “any condition or circumstance that on its own or in combination with other conditions or circumstances would lead a reasonable person to believe that a residential building or commercial building is vacant.” Nebraska Legislative Amendment AM452, LB256 sec. 4(1). The conditions and circumstances include overgrown or dead vegetation, accumulated personal property/trash, visible deterioration/lack of maintenance, defacement, or conditions that would reasonably lead someone to suspect the property is not being used for lawful purposes.

A city-wide database is to be created and a program administrator must be designated. Once the property has been vacant for 180 days or more, the owner of the property must register it — providing the name, street address, mailing address, phone number, facsimile, and email address of the owner or the owner’s agent. The registration must also include the street address of the property and the parcel number, as well as the date that the owner took title to the property and the date on which the property became vacant.

Payment may be required 180 days after the registration or 360 days from vacancy, whichever is sooner. Supplemental fees may be required every six months thereafter if the property remains on the database. The initial registration fee is limited at $250 (residential) and $1,000 (commercial). These fees can quickly increase as the fees with each registration may double the previous fee amount, with a maximum amount to be ten times the initial fee.

Exemptions have been carved out. Properties owned by the federal government, the state of Nebraska, or any political subdivision thereof are exempt from this legislation. The VPRO shall not be applied to properties that are advertised, in good faith, for sale or lease. The VPRO may be excluded from vacant properties that: are intended to be a seasonal residence only; have been damaged by fire, weather, an act of God or vandalism; or are under construction or renovation. Further exempt properties would be those where there is a temporary absence of the owner (if he or she demonstrates an intent to return), or those where the property’s ownership is subject to divorce, probate, or estate proceedings.

The ordinance and the obligations run with the land. Moreover, the property must be removed from the database when it becomes occupied; and, while on the database, the owner must supply a plan for occupancy. The VPRO shall also provide property owners with the right to appeal adverse decisions of the municipality or the program administrator (with notice sent by certified mail to the registered owner at the owner’s address identified in the county assessor’s office at least ten days prior to an adverse decision).

The VPRO may allow for inspections of the property at the time of registration and each year thereafter. Fines may be imposed for a failure to comply, and the municipality may sue civilly for the fees that should have been collected. These fines and the fees for the registration become a lien on the property “upon the recording of a notice of such lien in the office of the register of deeds of the county in which the property is located. The lien created under this section shall be subordinate to all liens on the applicable property recorded prior to the time the notice of such lien under this section is recorded.” Nebraska Legislative Amendment AM452, LB256 sec. 7(2).

As stated, Omaha and its VPRO are not subject to the state’s VPRO regulations; neither is Lincoln. If LB256 is passed, a watchful eye for impending new ordinances by municipalities is strongly suggested.

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Note for consideration of the USFN Award of Excellence: This article is a "Feature."


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