A bill to require both Omaha and Lincoln to establish residential rental inspection programs prompted a flood of opposition Tuesday from rental property owners who said the proposal is unneeded and would lead to higher rental costs.
The measure (LB85) was introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha in response to unsafe and deteriorating rental housing conditions in parts of his city, capped by the shutdown of an apartment complex in north Omaha that housed roughly 500 refugees from Myanmar in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Lincoln was drawn into the bill when a number of advocacy groups asked that the city also be included, Wayne said.
Under terms of the proposal, residential rental properties would generally be required to register with the city and be inspected at least once every three years.
Cities would have the option to charge registration fees to help cover the cost of the inspections and could provide less-frequent inspections for properties with a history of compliance with building code regulations.
Omaha supporters of the proposal included renters who told the Legislature's Urban Affairs Committee about conditions that included infestation by mice and cockroaches, walls covered with mold, leaking water, gas leaks and exposed electrical outlets.
One woman told senators that cockroaches became embedded in her child's ears.
The Omaha inspection program operates on a complaint-based system and proponents of the bill told the committee that tenants often do not file complaints because they fear retaliation.
Lincoln conducts an inspection program that covers rental property with three or more dwelling units, Chad Blahak, director of the city's building and safety department, told the committee.
Opponents of the bill said the majority of rental property owners already are good landlords and the impact of the legislation would just lead to increased rental costs for their tenants.
Last year, a federal study found that Lincoln needs another 5,000 moderately priced, affordable rental units.
Omaha Planning Director David Fanslau estimated the annual cost of the proposal at $3 million to $4 million if inspections were conducted every three years.