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Big changes to law governing foreign land ownership

Tough Decisions: New legislation passed in the spring session updates a Nebraska law that dates back to 1889.

July 2, 2024

4 Min Read
rural road with cornfield and farmstead next to it
THERE SHOULD BE A LAW: The previous legislation governing foreign ownership of farmland in Nebraska dates back to 1889, when the city of Lincoln was only 22 years old. That law got a significant update this past legislative session. Curt Arens

by J. David Aiken

Since 1889, Nebraska has prohibited most non-U.S. citizens and foreign corporations from owning or leasing land in Nebraska, with some exceptions.

In response to concerns regarding Chinese land acquisition near U.S. military bases, state and federal alien ownership laws are being strengthened to better protect national security. Nebraska strengthened its basic alien ownership law in 2024 and enacted another law to prevent land purchases by enemy aliens near missile bases in the Nebraska Panhandle.

While Nebraska law has long prohibited alien land ownership, there have been several exceptions to this ban, including the following:

  1. Leases of up to five years.

  2. Oil and gas leases.

  3. Land used by railroads, public utilities and common carriers.

  4. Land used for manufacturing or industrial purposes, including petroleum product storage, sales or distribution.

  5. Land located within cities and villages and located within five miles of cities and villages.

  6. Land inherited by widows and heirs before March 1, 1889, so long as it is sold within 10 years.

  7. Land inherited by widows and heirs after March 1, 1889, so long as it is sold within five years.

  8. Land acquired before March 1, 1889.

  9. Land acquired by foreclosing on debt collateral so long as it is sold within 10 years.

Related:Gifting as part of farm transition planning

The first 2024 law, the Foreign-Owned Real Estate National Security Act (LB 1301) was introduced for Gov. Jim Pillen by Sen. Barry DeKay of Verdel, to make it more difficult for foreign adversaries to acquire land in Nebraska.

Foreign adversaries are defined as those established by the federal government, including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.

Cutting exceptions

LB 1301 reduces the number of alien land ownership exceptions (numbers 6, 8 and 9), and denies foreign adversaries exemptions 2, 3 and 7 outright. Exception 1 — leases for up to five years — denies foreign adversaries by implication, leaving exemptions 4 and 5.

Foreign adversaries are denied these exemptions (industrial and urban land) unless they have signed “national security agreements” with the federal government. Presumably the national security agreements would be designed to protect U.S. national security interests.

I anticipate that the requirement that the foreign adversary obtain a federal national security agreement as part of its Nebraska land acquisition project is likely to discourage most of these projects. So, except for the two national security agreement exception categories, foreign adversaries are banned from owning or acquiring land in Nebraska, statewide.

Related:Be proactive when managing risk on farm

These new provisions dealing with foreign adversaries are a significant change to Nebraska’s alien ownership laws. Equally significant are the new monitoring and enforcement provisions. First, LB 1301 makes both the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office responsible for receiving information from Nebraskans regarding possible alien land ownership violations.

Potential violations will be investigated by the Department of Agriculture, which can make referrals to the attorney general for prosecution. If the attorney general decides not to prosecute, the Department of Agriculture can hire an outside attorney to prosecute the case instead. These changes make it much more likely that potential violations are identified and referred to state government for investigation and prosecution.

LB 1301 strengthens Nebraska’s alien land ownership restrictions. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2025.

The second alien land ownership law, LB 1120, focuses on land purchases near certain military bases. LB 1120 was introduced by Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering to address suspicious land purchases near intercontinental ballistic missile fields in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Under LB 1120, which takes effect July 19, any buyer of real estate near these military installations must sign a sworn statement (affidavit) that the buyer has no connection with any federally defined foreign adversaries (China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela).

The counties where the foreign adversary affidavit is required are all of Banner, Cheyenne, Kimball and Scotts Bluff counties, and portions of Deuel, Garden, Morrill and Sioux counties. Offutt Air Force Base in Sarpy County is not included at this time.

The affidavit must be filed with the county recorder of deeds. A new deed to the buyer cannot be legally recorded until the affidavit has been properly filed. A copy of the affidavit is filed with the attorney general.

Identifying problems

One enforcement issue is investigating whether a business entity has no connections to foreign adversaries or criminal elements. This is very difficult in the U.S. because, until very recently, there has been no registry or list of all U.S. limited liability business entities and a list of their major shareholders or members.

In 2021, Congress took a major step to remedy this situation by enacting the Corporate Transparency Act. The CTA requires most limited liability business entities (corporations, LLCs, limited partnerships and others) to file information regarding the business owners with the U.S. Treasury Department.

This applies to farm, ranch and main street businesses, as well as larger businesses. Only companies who have already federally filed such information, such as banks or corporations listed on the New York Stock Exchange, do not have to file again under the CTA.

When the CTA is operational in 2025, state and federal law enforcement officials will be able to determine whether a suspicious real estate purchaser in Nebraska does or does not have ties to foreign adversaries. The CTA will significantly strengthen the enforcement of Nebraska alien land ownership restrictions.

Additional information regarding alien land ownership and the CTA may be found at

Aiken is a Nebraska Extension water law and agricultural law specialist.

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