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Homeless advocates slam bill that would allow landlords to collect last month’s rent

Last modified: 1/30/2015 12:32:31 AM
Homeless rights advocates urged state lawmakers yesterday to scrap a bill that would allow landlords to collect an additional month’s rent as down payment from tenants, warning that the legislation would further squeeze welfare reserves and push numerous people and families closer to the brink of displacement.

“This ought to be called the Homeless Promotion Act of 2016,” Elliott Berry, an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. (The measure, if enacted, would take effect Jan. 1 of next year.)

Under existing law, landlords in New Hampshire can charge a security deposit and first month’s rent from new tenants. House Bill 269, introduced by state Rep. Joe Duarte, a Candia Republican, would allow them to additionally collect last month’s rent. Supporters claim the move will legally align the state with others, including Massachusetts and New York, and will better protect landlords against difficult tenants.

Candia landlord Bill Stergios told committee members he was tired of effectively losing security deposits from tenants who demand that he use their deposits as last month’s rent. Stergios said he has tried taking such renters to court, but that the legal fees always prove more costly than their worth.

“We have no alternative but to go in the apartment and hope that they didn’t do any damage to it,” he said, adding, “Life is hard enough being a landlord without having to deal with the people who just want to move out and trash the apartment and not pay rent.”

Stergios also stressed that the added down payment would be voluntary – landlords would not have to charge it.

But Berry and other opponents argued that, while some landlords would continue working with low-income tenants, most would not.

“For every one of those (situations where a landlord works with low-income applicants), there will be 15 to 20 where the landlord will do what landlords do, because they’re business people,” Berry said. “They will charge what the traffic will bear.”

Manchester Welfare Commissioner Paul Martineau said waits for low-income housing in his city are already excruciatingly long: at least one year for the elderly; at least three for families; and at least 10 for the poorest, who qualify for housing vouchers, also known as Section 8.

“It’s tough enough people struggling to get into places,” Martineau said. “And now in Manchester if you get a two-bedroom it can be $950 or above – that means you (would have to) come up with $2,850 to be able to move into a place.”

State Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat and formerly an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, testified that the bill would not only “exacerbate” homelessness across the state, it would also discourage young people from moving to New Hampshire.

“If we make it more difficult to get an apartment in this state – and more expensive to get an apartment in this state – what message does that send to the folks graduating college in the Boston area?” he asked. “What message does that send to the folks graduating high school here in New Hampshire who want to go to community college or the university system right here?”

But supporters, including Nick Norman, who manages apartments in Derry and Manchester, said they could accept more renters with the added financial assurance provided by the bill.

Norman noted that his profit margins are slim as it is – $100 on average per month per unit. The proposed measure, he said, would help him and other landlords in similar situations simply stay afloat.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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