Eviction, foreclosure protections OKd in New Hampshire House

Eviction Notice

(Photo by Kathy Staub/Manchester Ink Link)

The day before the state’s ban on evictions and foreclosures ended, the New Hampshire House passed a watered-down version of a bill on Tuesday that would protect tenants and homeowners. And, shortly after the vote, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that his $35 million rental assistance program has gone live.

But Sununu also announced that the program could also be used to help those facing utility shutoffs, because that stay will be lifted on July 15.

Both branches of government are trying to cushion what has been called a potential eviction “tsunami” once the governor’s March 17 emergency order banning such actions expires on July 1.

The House passed HB 1247, which now requires that offer tenants a six-month repayment plan for rent missed during the coronavirus before filing an eviction and for mortgage holders to act in “good faith” before filing for foreclosure. The bill also clarifies that municipal welfare officials would not need an eviction notice to provide rental assistance, since such notices were illegal for the past three months.

The bill originally would have required landlords to give a 60-day notice before raising rent by more than 5% and 90 days if it were to be raised by more than 8%. But those provisions were stripped in the Senate – along with a six-month moratorium against any rent increase – in order to get the measure approved in that body.

In the House, the only lawmaker who spoke against the measure mainly objected to a provision that would give those living in rooming houses tenant protections. That would cause landlords to demand security deposits, which will mean that “homelessness will increase,” said Rep. Steven P. Beaudoin, R-Rochester.

Beaudoin added that the other provisions in the bill were not needed because mortgage holders already act in good faith and that “any landlord would happily work out a payment plan with their tenant” to avoid a costly eviction.

But Rep. Sandra Keans, D-Rochester, said that even before the pandemic there was a “housing crunch out there” and that “poor people were struggling to make those rents.   This is an attempt to slow things down.”

“It’s a win for the landlord to recoup their back rent without going to small claims and the tenant to pay it off over time,” added Casey Conley, D-Dover, the original sponsor of the bill.

The House passed the bill but by a 187-135 vote, well short of a two-thirds majority needed to override any future gubernatorial veto. Sununu had earlier expressed doubts about the bill, arguing that it would put off the day of reckoning until after the end of the year – his deadline to spend $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funds of which the $35 million Housing Relief Program is just a small part.

That program, coupled with stretching the initial first step in the eviction process from a week to a month, is meant to provide an “off ramp” for those who fell behind on their rent during the eviction moratorium, said Sununu.

It provides a one-time payment of up to $2500 for tenants who fell behind on their rent from April going forward for Covid-related reasons only, with the funds going directly to the landlord. The funds could also be used by the homeless for a security deposit and first month’s rent, as well as some diminishing rental assistance over the first few months.

Only $20 million of the program would be used at first, with another $15 million held in reserve if needed. But housing advocates warned that more will be needed, not less, though Sununu also said he could allocate more CARES Act funds to the program if warranted. Senate Democrats were set to pass a bill allocating $60 million in CARES Act funding for a similar program before Sununu announced his housing program.

The funds will be administered by nonprofit community  action agencies, which have long administered a similar program to help people with their utility bills.

On Tuesday, the governor announced that the housing program funds could be used for that purpose as well, another attempt to “bridge the gap” for those facing economic hardship. Tenants can apply for the Housing Relief Program online or they can call 211 for assistance.

Categories: Government, News, Real Estate & Construction