Maggie Fogarty of AFSC's New Hampshire Economic Justice Project testified before the NH House Judiciary Committee on January 15, 2013, in opposition to HB 106, a bill that would substantially weaken tenant protections. 

HB 106 Should be Declared "Inexpedient to Legislate"

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) recognizes that New Hampshire people need access to safe, decent affordable housing as an essential component of their wellbeing.  As nearly a third of all New Hampshire households are renters, we have become increasingly involved in efforts to address the appalling conditions of some of our lower cost rental housing in cities around the state.  In many cases, tenants are living with broken doors and windows, broken or missing smoke detectors, mold and leaking pipes, faulty electrical wiring, lead hazards, roach and bed bug infestations.  These conditions carry real risks to the tenants’ health and safety.  As a weak economy has failed to lower rental rates in our cities, hardworking families are paying from $800 to $1,000/month for terrible housing because they lack the resources to move elsewhere.

As we work with these tenants to help them address unfair and unsafe conditions, we find that our existing systems for landlord accountability are weak and need to be strengthened.  Code enforcement offices are understaffed; out of state landlords are hard to reach and landlords who neglect their properties experience insufficient pressure from authorities to bring their buildings into compliance with existing housing codes.  The existence of one or more decaying properties negatively impacts the entire neighborhood, both its people and its other properties.

Current law offers a mechanism that enables municipal housing officers to hold bad landlords accountable, by requiring them to register a local authorized agent to receive service of legal process.  There is simply no good reason to eliminate this requirement.  No decent landlord would object to being reached in a timely manner should a legal process require his or her notification.  In fact, current law should be strengthened in this instance, both to require the posting of the local person authorized to make needed repairs to the property, and to include a fine for non-compliance.  

HB 106 goes much further than repealing a common sense provision, however.  With the provision to increase—from $15 to $160—the penalty for nonpayment of rent, this bill will likely prompt a significant increase in evictions and even homelessness.  A tenant who is even one day behind on her rent would have only seven days from receipt of the demand for rent to not only pay her rent in full but to come up with an additional $160 to avoid eviction. 

Is this penalty necessary to cover the costs of serving a demand for rent?  No, the documents are found on the state’s court website, can be printed for free and served by anyone over the age of 18.

Is this penalty necessary to discourage late payment of rent?  No, the landlord can write into the lease and enforce a fee for late payment of rent.

This penalty serves no value in a balanced, fair, workable relationship between landlords and tenants. In addition to the hardship it will impose on low-income tenants, most of whom are low-wage workers, it will likely increase the financial burden on local welfare offices, which will either have to pay an additional amount for their residents to resolve the nonpayment issue and avoid eviction, or worse, provide resources to house a newly homeless individual or family.

For the sake of quality affordable rental housing inNew Hampshire, the effectiveness of municipal officers seeking to ensure compliance with existing laws and ordinances, and the maintenance of landlord tenant policies which are balanced and fair, please determine that HB 106 is inexpedient to legislate.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.