Elissa Margolin: House should defeat security deposit bill

For the Monitor
Monday, March 05, 2018

Should we modify New Hampshire’s landlord/tenant law, as proposed by House Bill 1485, so that New Hampshire’s landlords could charge up to two months rent for a security deposit? Housing Action NH, a statewide coalition with a membership that includes affordable housing developers, property managers and landlords, says, “No.”

So, why does a coalition that includes a lot of landlords oppose the opportunity to collect more for security deposits?

First, our rental market is too tight and too expensive right now – so tight and so expensive that it is adversely impacting workforce recruitment, millennial retention and increasing the homeless population. One could argue that making this kind of policy change would be the equivalent of raising federal interest rates during a recession – just bad economic policy.

Secondly, it will undoubtedly increase the burden on municipal welfare and drain state and local resources that help with rental deposits. Are property tax payers prepared to subsidize the inevitable increased needs to local welfare? And, on the state level, New Hampshire has a very small rental deposits support program called the Homeless Housing Access Fund that is already quickly drained of resources by the expensive rental market. Are we prepared as a state to provide major increases in appropriations for programs like these? Unlikely.

Proponents of this bill argue that this proposal is only enabling and that the tight market will keep landlords from asking for more. We have not found that to be the case. In addition, Housing Action NH members report that the struggle to get rental deposits returned to tenants undermines housing transitions and mobility since many New Hampshire residents in this income bracket cannot afford to provide the necessary deposits for their next place.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that making it more difficult for low-income families to rent will result in an increase in homelessness. After several years of progress in decreasing the homeless population, the 2017 data show an increase in homelessness in the state in almost every category, including family homelessness. That’s because too many New Hampshire families can’t afford their rent.

Addressing the affordable housing crisis in the state is a complex issue, and we are encouraged by the recent attention to affordable housing by New Hampshire’s business and political leaders. However, increasing how much rental deposits can be collected would be an unjust blow to a population that is already struggling with housing.

As many in the New Hampshire House consider their vote on the rental deposits bill this week, let’s hope they consider the workforce, the students, the millennials and the thousands of low-income New Hampshire families who are struggling in this unprecedented tight and expensive rental market and follow the House Judiciary Committee’s recommendation to kill the bill. House Bill 1485 is truly inexpedient at this time.

(Elissa Margolin is the director of Housing Action NH.)