House bill seeks to raise landlord compensation in rent proceedings

Measure would double maximum award in landlord-tenant court

Landlords could get a bigger chunk of change in landlord-tenant court proceedings from tenants who don’t pay their rent, if a bill proposed by Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington, becomes law.

The bill, whose language hadn’t been released at deadline, would double the maximum award for landlords to $3,000.

Rents are going up so quickly that landlords might end up only being awarded a month’s rent when a tenant owes much more, said Turcotte, especially during an eviction process that could drag on for months.

Landlords can always go to small claims court, which is the jurisdiction of the Superior Court system, where the maximum award is $10,000, but they often combine a claim for back rent with an eviction proceeding in landlord-tenant court, which is part of the circuit court system, so to collect more money, landlords have to go to proceedings in two different courts, with an extra filing fee of at least $80, on top of the $125 paid in landlord-tenant court.

“The existing law also limits the tenant. It’s a two-way street,” said Turcotte.

But Elliott Berry, Housing Project director for NH Legal Assistance, said the state constitution gives tenants the right for a jury trial for any dispute exceeding $1,500. And circuit courts are not set up for jury trials, so they have to be tried in Superior Court.

“I understand the inconvenience, but this bill may have unintended consequences,” Berry aid.

Of course, many tenants don’t show up for court proceedings, and if they do, they are often not represented, and may not know they have a right for a jury trial. he said, and they might be deprived of their constitutional right. Besides, he said, judgments are often of little use to landlord because they can’t be enforced if the tenant doesn’t have the money to pay them.

“As the saying goes, you can’t get blood out of a stone,” Berry said.

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