Nebraska law places special emphasis on ensuring that certain essential services are available to tenants. Nebraska Statute 76-1427 covers running water, hot water, heat, and “essential services,” which almost certainly includes electricity (but does not necessarily include air conditioning). If the landlord deliberately or negligently fails to supply one of these services, the tenant may serve a 14-day/30-day notice as described above, or the tenant may give the landlord a written notice of the failure and choose one of the following options:
- Purchase the service until the landlord fixes the problem and deduct the costs of that service from rent.
- Recover damages from the landlord in the amount of the decrease in fair rental value of the property because of the missing service.
- Stay somewhere else while the service is out and be excused from paying rent for that time.
These rights have a couple of important limitations. First, the tenant must give the landlord a written notice of the condition before using any of the above options. Second, the tenant may not exercise these rights if the tenant’s deliberate or negligent act caused the problem. This means that a tenant whose heat or electricity is shut off because the tenant failed to pay the utility bill may not use these options. Click here for a sample notice of failure to provide essential services.
If the landlord’s failure to supply the services is deliberate, the tenant may be able to recover attorney fees as well as additional damages if the tenant is either purchasing the service or staying somewhere else. If the tenant is purchasing the service, the tenant may recover the actual and reasonable cost of the service up to an amount equal to one-month’s rent. If the tenant is staying somewhere else, the tenant may recover the reasonable value of the substitute housing up to an amount equal to one-month’s rent. THE TENANT SHOULD CONSULT AN ATTORNEY BEFORE PURSUING A LANDLORD FOR A DELIBERATE FAILURE TO SUPPLY ESSENTIAL SERVICES.