Judge grants emergency eviction in Concord landlord-tenant dispute

Monitor staff
Published: 5/11/2020 4:25:41 PM

An emergency eviction granted by a New Hampshire judge will allow snowbirds Sal and Peggy Terassi to return to Concord by week’s end with a place to call home.

The couple paid in advance for a six-month stay at an apartment on North State Street before leaving for their winter stay in Florida. However, an ongoing landlord-tenant dispute almost prevented the Terassis from being able to reoccupy the residence – a place where they’ve stayed in summers past and left behind personal belongings.

“It is a big burden lifted off of our shoulders, and now we’re going forward with our plans to head north,” Sal Terassi recently told the Monitor. “At least we have a home again, and that’s the way it should have been from the beginning.”

With the couple’s consent, the building’s landlord Mary DeAngelis had rented the apartment last fall to a woman she believed was in need at the time. DeAngelis said she told the woman the arrangement was temporary and that she needed to vacate before Sal and Peggy Terassi returned to New Hampshire. The deal, though, quickly fell apart.

Alleging unpaid rent and damage to the property, DeAngelis initiated eviction proceedings in Concord’s district court against the tenant. After months of dispute, the two sides ultimately reached an agreement in early February that stipulated the tenant would not owe past rent if she vacated the residence by April 1 and waived all defenses and appeals. Judge M. Kristin Spath granted a writ of possession, which stipulated that if the winter tenant did not leave by April 1 than deputy sheriffs could forcibly remove her.

What neither side planned for was the coronavirus pandemic, which triggered a state of emergency declaration in New Hampshire in mid-March. Soon after, Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order banning all evictions and foreclosures.

Still living at the residence on April 1, DeAngelis’s winter tenant argued in recent court filings that the pandemic prevented her from making alternative living arrangements by the deadline. She also argued the sheriff’s office could not force her out because of the governor’s no-eviction order.

But by early April, Sununu had modified his original order, allowing for evictions only in cases where tenants violate their lease by causing “substantial damage” to the property or by behaving in a way that “adversely affects the health and safety of the other tenants or the landlord.” Through her attorney, DeAngelis argued that her case was an exception, and that the eviction should proceed under the original terms.

Judge Spath agreed. She also dismissed all counter claims brought by the tenant, noting that the time to file such claims had long passed.

Despite the governor’s executive order on April 3 allowing certain evictions, the state’s circuit courts started only in recent days reviewing those types of emergency motions. Because of the pandemic, the courts have operated on a limited basis since mid-March, but judges say they continue to review the possible expansion of cases that can be addressed by telephone and video.

Circuit Court Administrative Judge David King said Monday that landlord-tenant petitions are being accepted and scheduled for hearings in cases filed solely on the grounds that a tenant caused property damage or placed other tenants or the landlord at risk. If a landlord proves his or her case at a hearing, the judge will issue a writ of possession allowing for the emergency eviction. King said no tenant will be evicted without notice and a hearing.

The case brought by DeAngelis is unique in that the writ of possession was issued by agreement in early February, weeks before the state of emergency. Without a further hearing, Spath ordered that the writ be executed because the tenant had failed to move out by April 1 and, therefore, was in violation of the original court order. The sheriff’s department acted on May 5.

The Monitor attempted to contact the tenant for this story but she did not respond.

The Terassis said the last few months have been an emotional rollercoaster and that they’re relieved to have a home to return to this month.

“There are many lessons learned here,” Peggy Terassi said. “We’re certainly going to be far more cautious and look at things a little differently now as far as planning our return to New Hampshire in the future.”

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