New Hampshire House committee debates ‘rent control’ legislation

Measure would require longer notice for increases in rents

Is requiring landlords to give tenants more notice of rent increases a form of “rent control”?

Yes, argued Nick Norman, a lobbyist with the Apartment Association of New Hampshire who strongly opposed House Bill 1237 at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover, whose proposed amendment to his own bill would require a 90-day notice for rent increases over 5% and a six-month notice of increases of more than 8%. The amendment dropped requirements for such notifications before a sale.

Currently, landlords only have to give a 30–day notice for any rent increase.

Two-thirds of Conley’s constituents are tenants and there’s a 1% rental vacancy rate in the city. “Thirty days is simply not enough time to find suitable replacement housing. You can’t move down the street. You can’t guarantee you’ll find something in your own community,” he said, adding that the bill “does not prevent anyone from raising rent. It’s about notification. “

“It’s common courtesy,” echoed Keith Vincent, D-Somersworth, a landlord himself since 2004. “It should be common courtesy to give someone 90 days grace.” He said that that a landlord who doesn’t deserves the name “slumlord.”

“Where do you go if you get a sudden increase you can’t afford?. There is no way or where for people to go,” he said.

Tenant groups lined the hallways outside the hearing room in support of the bill. Inside, NH Legal Assistance attorney Elliott Berry cited horror stories from his case files – a 70-year-old getting a 26-day notice of a $400 rent increase; a Keene resident socked with 30-day notice of a $550 rent increase; a disabled Manchester resident who lived in an apartment for 19 years who was given 32 days notice of a $150 increase.

A 5% increase on an average two-bedroom apartment being rented at $1,347 a month would be $67 a month, and an 8% increase would be $107 a month.

‘A foot in the door’

Under the bill landlords with four apartments or fewer would be exempt, Barry pointed out. In addition, “there is no limit” for landlords over that limit. “We are talking about a delay, that’s all.”

But landlords and some lawmakers said it was more than that.

“If they say the property taxes are up 40 percent, does the landlord have to suck it up?” asked Rep. Jason Janvrin, R-Seabrook.

Tenants only have to give a 30-day notice to leave, Norman said. Why should landlords give 90? “It’s not equitable,” he said.

But the market is so tight, noted Rep. Wendy Chase, D- Rollinsford. A tenant might have a tough time finding an apartment in 90 days, “but a landlord will be able to fill one.”

“This is not a change for just this year,” replied Norman. “I’ve been through down markets when it’s tough to rent an apartment. We are not talking about a law when the market is strong and another law for when the market is weak.”

When lawmakers asked why he called the measure rent control, he said “you are limiting the start of an increase. That’s rent control language. It’s a foot in the door.”

The New Hampshire Association of Realtors also opposed the bill, saying that the measure could be a disincentive to build new housing stock.

“I would think this bill would having nothing to do with limiting the incentive of building new housing units,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “They are building new housing units. They could set the rent to whatever they want.”

People aren’t building and or buying these properties just for the initial rent money but for the returns they will get in the future, said David Cline, an attorney testifying for the Apartment Association. “If you limit that upside with government regulation, then you limit market value. That’s why people aren’t building that much anymore.”

HB 1247 followed another landlord notification bill, HB 1207, which required landlords to disclose to tenants about pesticides used on the premises.

“Tenants have the right to know what is in there before they move in,” said sponsor Rep. Suzanne Vail, D-Nashua, who credited the bill to a constituent who was “livid” when he learned his apartment had been sprayed for bedbugs shortly before he moved in.

This bill would require a 90-day notice of “any pesticides or other toxins used to kills insects bedbugs rodents or any other living organisms.” But that language received some pushback, with Rep. Joe Alexander, R-Goffstown, asking if inclusion the phrase “living organism” include anti-bacterial cleaning supplies. It could also involve a mold removal product, said Norman.

Vail said the bill didn’t have a specific penalty, but both Normand and Cline said that the bill would put failure to notify under a section of the law with fines of $1,000 a day per violation. “That’s extremely excessive,” Norman said.

On Wednesday morning the committee was scheduled to hold hearings on two other bills affecting landlords and tenants.

HB 1291 would prevent discrimination for those with pets. HB 1539 makes extensive changes to a complicated lead paint law having to do with relocating children with elevated lead levels during an abatement. Landlords seem to be most concern by a provision that would allow a tenant to use rent money to pay for the abatement.

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