Senate morphs parking bill to include squatter protections and zoning changes

Holly Ramer/AP file photo

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 05-22-2024 4:10 PM

In a bill that was first introduced to limit zoning parking requirements to two spaces, New Hampshire Senators drove several issues back to the House with a series of amendments. 

Now the proposal includes regulations on parking requirements, protections against squatters, tax relief for office conversions to residential buildings , and changes to zoning ordinances. 

The original proposal from Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, a Concord Democrat running for State Senate, stemmed from the Special Committee on Housing. The House recommended easing regulations to limit requirements to two parking spaces per unit.

 After the bill passed the House, Senate President Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, proposed an amendment to add protection against squatters in the state. 

New Hampshire law was notably silent on the procedure for when unlawful tenants are occupying property, he said. 

Bradley’s original proposal included adding a new chapter to state law that would enforce that squatters had no rights to occupy a property and an immediate procedure to follow to remove them from the premises. 

In a Senate Commerce hearing, advocates raised concerns that the amendment would exacerbate the state's current housing crisis by providing landlords with a simplified path to remove someone from their property. 

However, a revised amendment provided clear definitions of tenants and requirements to show proof of residency to appease concerns. 

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To Sen. Daniel Innis, a Bradford Republican, the squatting provisions provide much-needed protections so that New Hampshire residents do not face issues he said he read about in nearby states. 

“Squatters have become major problems in other states, states like Massachusetts and New York in particular where there has been a flood of illegal immigrants,” he said. “Illegals have broken into homes, they claim squatters' rights and the owners are forced into a long and costly eviction process that just doesn't make sense.”

Innis’ town of Bradford is a prime example, he said. With a number of seasonal residences, there is no provision in state law that would stop people from occupying a vacant home without permission in the winter months. 

“It’s unacceptable, it's criminal and it goes against the basic property rights that we’ve all become accustomed to in our country,” he said. “We must protect property rights in our state.” 

The new amendment clarifies that to remove a squatter, the owner must file a petition in the district or county of the property. A court hearing will take place within 48 hours of the notice being served. 

To Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat, the court requirements were a necessary clarification. 

“Some of us may or may not agree with the origin of needing that language but we do appreciate the cooperation in the process between the various parties in making an improvement to our existing law which allows for the discretion in an eviction of a squatter to return to the judge," she said. "That's a productive improvement.”

And after the Senate passed the initial squatting amendment, Perkins Kwoka also took the opportunity to tack on further changes. 

Earlier this month the House killed Perkins Kwoka’s “HOMEnibus” proposal that made several technical changes to residential zoning and housing incentives.

The bill would have created a tax relief program for converting office spaces into residential units and eased regulations on municipalities to adopt zoning changes. New applicants could propose “alternative parking solutions” like shared off-site parking spaces or access to public transportation to appease requirements. 

Now the Senate has reintroduced these ideas as an amendment to McWilliams’ parking bill. 

The bill, with both amendments, passed the Senate and now will go back to the House for a third reading.