Bill to loosen eviction guidelines passes House

The State House dome in downtown Concord.

The State House dome in downtown Concord.

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 03-22-2024 1:19 PM

A bill that would ease New Hampshire’s eviction process will now head to the Senate after House members passed the measure 194 to 180 on Thursday. 

Today, if a landlord wanted to terminate a lease with a tenant at the end of the contract, they are required to provide a “just cause” – like needing to renovate the unit, renting to a family member or evicting the tenant for a lease violation. The proposal, House Bill 1115, would eliminate all of this, allowing landlords to terminate a lease without reason.

This bill would encourage landlords to take a “risk” when renting to tenants, more likely to accept someone with a poor rental history, knowing that they could terminate the contract at its conclusion if needed, according to Rep. Bob Lynn, a Windham Republican who is the bill’s sponsor. 

The root cause of homelessness in the state is the lack of available housing, according to Lynn. Current laws do little to incentivize landlords to want to rent units, he said, when the state is in dire need of more options. 

“How does it help to encourage landlords and investors to give us more housing for rent to make crazy rules like this that just impose really frankly stupid burdens on the landlord,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense." 

But in an executive session earlier this month, House Judiciary voted to kill the bill 12 to 8.

This came after a marathon hearing where advocates hedged that this bill would increase homelessness in the state, making renters more vulnerable in a tight market that has a vacancy rate of less than one percent. 

That was the argument that Rep. Cam Kenney, a Durham Democrat, presented on the House floor. 

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“This bill would make an already dire issue much worse by increasing homelessness," he said. “Any eviction in this housing market is likely to result in some period of homelessness." 

In landlord and tenant contracts, landlords have the upper hand, said Kenny. With such low housing stock available, tenants lack bargaining power, knowing that there are few options available to them. Landlords may have a dozen new prospective applicants at a moments notice. 

And that doesn’t mean that landlords don’t have options if they’d like to find a new tenant, he continued. The landlord can raise the rent by any margin, they can rent to a family member or occupy the unit themselves, if they’d like to terminate a current rental agreement. 

“We all know that there are times when a landlord needs to evict a tenant and there are many lawful reasons that allow them to do that," he said. “They just have to have some legitimate reason because it should not be easy to take away someone’s home." 

But on the House floor, legislators revived the proposal at Lynn’s request. 

It’s not the first time the bill has passed the House. Last year, it was approved on a 211-157 vote, but later died in the Senate. 

“Some of the reason this bill failed in the other body was a claim that because we have such low vacancy rates that this will result in increased homelessness,” said Lynn. “This whole homeless argument, I suggest to you, is a nice soundbite but doesn’t actually make any sense."