Monday, May 21, 2012

Senate to consider housing bill that would loosen eviction standards

By JAKE BERRY Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Local renters could be evicted from their homes for any reason once their lease expires under a proposed law to be voted Wednesday in the state Senate.

Most lease agreements allow renters to stay on as month-to-month-tenants once their lease agreement expires. Under HB 1263, landlords could evict tenants at any time for any reason once the contract ends.

Rep. Brandon Giuda, R-Chichester, introduced the bill earlier this year to bring housing contracts in line with other legal agreements.

“When you make a contract with somebody, you make a contract. There is no reason why contract law should be different in landlord-tenant cases,” he said.

But housing advocates fear the measure could cause further instability among some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

The bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this spring, and the state Senate is scheduled to take up the matter Wednesday.

“This destabilizes the housing market for low- and middle-income families who rely on rental units as their home,” said Dan Feltes, a staff attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which provides legal services for low-income earners.

“There just has to be a reason (for eviction),” Feltes said Tuesday. “Otherwise we’re subjecting (thousands of families) to complete instability and arbitrary eviction on a whim at any time. ... Simply not liking somebody ... is not good cause to evict.”

Current housing law permits landlords or property managers to evict tenants who have active lease agreements at any time if they fail to meet payments or break the conditions of the contract. But if the lease agreement has expired, landlords must provide justification for eviction, including plans to renovate the unit, to take it off the market or to increase rent more than the tenant is willing to pay. Under HB 1263, landlords would no longer need due cause to evict once the lease expires.

Some property managers and other supporters of the bill say it could provide more freedom to landlords to monitor the inhabitants in their units.

“If you’ve got an undesirable tenant who pays their rent, it gives you the opportunity to work it out with them, (otherwise) they don’t have any right to stay,” said Richard Jean, owner of Central Realty in Nashua, which manages about 300 properties around the area.

“The goal is always to let them stay,” Jean said. “But it would give us the ability to move on if we have to.”

Still, other property managers disagree, fearing the law would give landlords undue power to evict residents based on maintenance requests, disability accommodations, or other reasons.

“First and foremost, a proof of cause provides a balance of power in an owner-tenant relationship,” Paul Stewart, president of Stewart Property Management in Bedford, wrote last week in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considered the matter.

“Without cause, an owner could nonrenew a lease for any undisclosed reason,” Stewart wrote, “which could be because the tenant requested maintenance or complained about health or safety violations, or entertained guests or exhibited a lifestyle not to the liking of the owner.”

The legislation wouldn’t apply to all property owners and tenants. If passed, it would exempt “small-time” landlords, who own four units or less, and it wouldn’t apply to vacation homes or government-subsidized housing, which falls under federal law, according to Feltes, of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Census data shows there are about 152,000 occupied rental units in the state, though about 20,000 are public housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many more do not have lease agreements.

Still, if passed, the law could affect the housing market for future renters, as well, Feltes said.

Under the law, many landlords could shift toward shorter 30- or 60-day lease agreements knowing they could evict their tenants any time after, he said.

“They can keep the tenants they like after the expiration,” Feltes said. “The ones they don’t, they won’t.”

This could leave many families struggling to maintain stable housing, among other services, said Elissa Margolin, director of Housing Action NH, a statewide housing coalition.

“We know that moving families from place to place really undermines family stability, and certainly the education of young children,” Margolin said. “We see this (proposal) as neither fair nor functional.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or

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