Four tenant protection bills run the gauntlet during NH House committee hearing

Measures addressing tenant protection shows consequences of narrowly divided membership

Statehousecloudy 2048x1131Nothing will be easy in the NH House of Representatives this session, as the recent committee votes on four landlord-tenant bills can attest. The House Judiciary Committee had to go through multiple votes on each bill because of the difficulty of either side to gain a majority.

The bills are different, but the debate over them is basically the same. Given the acute shortage of rental housing, tenants need to be protected, because landlords have the upper hand, and can easily exploit them, proponents maintain. Because of the acute shortage of housing, landlords need to be protected, because any regulation could cause them to get out of the rental business, making the housing shortage even worse, argue opponents.

Let’s start with House Bill 112, which the committee narrowly recommended to the full house after a compromise amendment was inserted. The original bill would have required landlords who are about to sell the property to provide tenants 60 days’ notice before the sale closes, and even more time to give them a chance to obtain financing to buy the property, similar to a law now used by residents of manufactured home parks to buy the land under their homes.

With a 10-10 Republican-Democratic membership, a motion to kill the bill failed on a tie vote. Democrats then offered an amendment that would just leave the 60-day notice in the bill.

“I agree that the motion is somewhat less objectional,” said committee chair Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, “but it still makes it more difficult to own and manage and dispose of the property, so in theory that will make things worse, and the more restrictions to place on landlords will discourage people from being landlords.”

With the housing shortage, replied Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham “it’s best to get the word to the tenants what is going on.”

The amended bill passed, 11-9.

Things became even more convoluted with HB 117. This was Lynn’s bill that will give the landlord the right to evict someone at the end of a lease, without any cause, overturning a state Supreme Court decision to protect the rights of tenants. “When a contract is over, you should be able to end that contract,” said Lynn, a former Supreme Court justice himself, arguing that it would make landlords “reluctant to rent to someone who is marginal.”

After multiple tie votes, the committee agreed to retain the bill, but then voted to reconsider that vote, and another tie vote would have sent the bill to the full House without a recommendation. A vote to reconsider the reconsideration failed on a 10-10 vote.

Then there was HB 261, which would allow domestic violence victims and people who have suddenly become disabled to break their lease and get their security deposit back. Again, Democrats tried to rescue the bill by just making limiting it to domestic violence victims, a position, in theory that won over Jeffrey Greeson, R-Wentworth.

“If the tenant needs to get out of the lease, he (the landlord) can avoid midnight moveouts. I think that’s prudent,” he said.

However, Greeson agreed with the majority to not allow the amendment. There was some back and forth on whether to retain the bill to come up with another amendment, but that also failed on a 10-10 vote, so the bill in its original form was sent to the floor without recommendation.

And then there was HB 283, which would cap application fees charged to prospective tenants to $35.

This time, an amendment was suggested that would scrap the limit but would allow landlords to charge a fee to tenants they actually rent to and not be able to collect multiple nonrefundable fees from people desperately seeking housing. The motion to amend failed, as did the original bill, as did an attempt to kill it. But this time, the committee voted 11-9 to retain the bill to come up with a compromise.

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