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Nebraska Supreme Court Upholds Law That Deprives Mentally Ill Homeowner’s Rights
Legal Aid will continue to fight for fair and just housing laws despite the ruling.
(Lincoln, NE) Today, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued its opinion in Nieveen v. Tax 106, finding in favor of Tax 106. Legal Aid of Nebraska Attorney Mark Bestul argued the case on behalf of Sandra Nieveen. Despite legal protections, Nieveen, who suffers from mental illness, will lose her home of nearly fifty years based on today’s ruling.
Under Nebraska law, counties can sell property tax liens to private parties when homeowners fall behind on their real estate taxes. Regardless of how much equity a homeowner has in their property or how small the amount the owner owes in taxes, state law provides that the county can take their property and all of the equity in it and transfer it to a private purchaser who pays the unpaid taxes. By paying the delinquent taxes and any subsequent taxes, these private parties take ownership of the property after three years if the property owner fails to redeem the taxes within that three-year timeframe.
Nieveen tried to rely upon an extension of time for the redemption period based on her mental illness. Such an extension is allowed under Nebraska law if a property owner is determined to suffer a mental disorder at the time of the tax sale. Both the trial court and the Nebraska Supreme Court determined that Nieveen did not prove she was entitled to the extension of time.
“The fact our clients, like Ms. Nieveen, who are already dealing with many facets of instability, now also have to lose their home due to a lack of a basic notice is heartbreaking. We firmly believe that low-income, elderly, and disabled clients deserve better, and we will continue to fight for fair and equal property rights for all Nebraskans,” states Bestul.
Counsel for Nieveen is now reviewing the decision and determining all possible remaining options, including seeking additional review by the United States Supreme Court.
Legal Aid of Nebraska was also involved in a similar case before the Nebraska Supreme Court, Continental Resources v. Fair, in which Mr. Fair argued Nebraska’s tax sale scheme is unconstitutional. After an unfavorable decision was issued, Mr. Fair plans to seek review in the United States Supreme Court, where he will be represented by Pacific Legal Foundation with Legal Aid of Nebraska as local counsel.
If you are a homeowner and need assistance, a newly established Homeowners Assistance Fund administered by NIFA is available to help. This fund will help pay delinquent real estate property taxes to avoid further legal or tax foreclosure activity. Up to $30,000 per household is available, but the funding is limited. Applications can be found at: https://haf.nifa.org/
About Legal Aid of Nebraska: Legal Aid of Nebraska was established in 1963 and is the largest statewide non-profit civil legal aid provider in Nebraska, providing free high-quality services to low-income Nebraskans in all 93 counties. Legal Aid’s mission is “to promote justice, dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn.” Legal Aid has offices in Lincoln, Omaha, North Platte, Norfolk, Grand Island, Scottsbluff, and Bancroft.