Landlord and Tenant Rights
Federal, state, and local laws all govern the relationship between renters and landlords. There are many current debates in New Hampshire about how laws governing rental properties could change.
Before renting an apartment in New Hampshire, a landlord may ask a tenant to fill out an application. That application process may include a credit check and a criminal background check.
Rejecting tenants based on criminal records
Some states and municipalities have considered laws that prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants based solely on a criminal record.
Supporters argue this helps released prisoners reintegrate into society, reducing the chance that they will reoffend.
Opponents counter that it unfairly restricts the rights of landlords to guarantee the safety of their property or their neighbors.
New Hampshire does not have a law restricting how landlords use background checks, which means landlords here can choose not to rent to a tenant based on past criminal convictions.
A lease is an agreement between a landlord and a tenant to rent a property for a certain price. Lease contracts can be written or verbal, but a lease usually refers to a written contract to rent a property for one year.
If a tenant vacates a property before the term of the lease ends, he or she may still have to pay rent for the remaining months on the lease.
Leases and rent control in NH
In 1981 the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that cities and towns do not have the power to limit rent increases or implement other rent controls. There are also no state laws capping rent. The terms of a lease therefore control rent increases.
Supporters of allowing New Hampshire cities and towns to set rent controls argue it would help to increase the availability of affordable housing and protect renters from being priced out of their homes.
Opponents counter that rent controls would make it more likely that landlords would sell properties instead of leasing them. Controls could also discourage the construction of new rental properties, leading to a shortage of available spaces.
New Hampshire law allows landlords to ask renters for a security deposit equal to one month’s rent. When a renter vacates the property at the end of a lease, the landlord must return the renter’s security deposit within thirty days, minus the cost to repair any damage to the property. Normal wear and tear, such as worn floors, does not count as damage to the property.
Raising or eliminating the cap on security deposits
The New Hampshire Legislature has rejected bills that would let landlords ask for a deposit larger than one month’s rent. Many other states have no limit on the size of a deposit.
Supporters of the cap argue it helps keep the financial threshold to rent a property low, as many tenants would have trouble coming up with a higher security deposit.
Opponents counter that landlords should be able to ask for a deposit sufficient to cover possible damage to their property, as otherwise they can be left footing a hefty bill for repairs.
Health and safety standards
Landlords in New Hampshire must maintain the property to minimum health and safety standards. For example, plumbing must work and all interior areas must be able to be heated to at least 65 degrees.
If a landlord fails to meet these health and safety standards, for example by failing to make a repair, a tenant may withhold rent. However, failure to pay rent is grounds for eviction, so a tenant should consult with an attorney to make sure he or she is legally withholding rent.
Lead paint rules for landlords and tenants
In New Hampshire, if a child under age six has a blood test that shows a lead level of 10mcg/dL or higher, the state conducts an investigation to find the source of the lead poisoning. That investigation includes any rental property where the child lives. If that rental property has lead paint, the state may order the landlord to complete lead hazard reduction.
During the lead hazard reduction the landlord may ask the tenants to temporarily move to a new location, at the landlord’s expense. The governor signed into law SB 247 that made various changes to the laws around lead poisoning. For example, it provides some state funding for landlords to complete lead hazard reduction, but it also requires landlords to more proactively address lead contamination.
In 2014 New Hampshire passed a law with special power and responsibilities for landlords to address bedbugs.
If there is a complaint of bedbugs in a tenant’s unit, a landlord must investigate the property within seven days. The landlord is allowed emergency entry into a tenant’s unit to investigate and remediate a bedbug infestation.
If a tenant is responsible for a bedbug infestation (only his/her unit has bed bugs and there have been no other bed bug reports in the unit or adjacent units in the previous six months), the landlord can bill the tenant for the cost of removing the bedbugs.
It is illegal for a landlord to turn off utilities, lock out a tenant, or enter the property without permission (unless it is an emergency). To evict a tenant, a landlord must go through an eviction process in court.
New Hampshire Legal Aid also has many self-help legal guides for renters.
Grounds for eviction
New Hampshire law requires a landlord to have a reason to evict a tenant. A landlord may evict a tenant for:
- Failing to pay rent
- Causing substantial damage to the property
- Violating the terms of the lease
- Behavior that affects the health or safety of other tenants or the landlord
- “Other good cause”
“Other good cause” includes, but is not limited to, “any legitimate business or economic reason.” For example, a landlord might evict a tenant if he plans to tear down a single family home and build a new multi-unit building.
Reasons a landlord cannot evict
A landlord cannot evict a tenant for failing to pay rent if the tenant is legally withholding rent to force the landlord to make repairs. A tenant can also stop eviction by paying owed rent (although this is only allowed three times in one year; if the tenant falls behind on rent a fourth time, the eviction will go forward).
Lastly, a landlord cannot evict a tenant for being a victim of domestic violence, for reporting a violation of health and safety codes, or for meeting and organizing with other tenants.
Expanding reasons for eviction
The Legislature has considered, but rejected, adding more specific grounds for eviction. For example, 2016 bill HB 1370 would have allowed eviction if a tenant allows a guest to stay on the property more than fourteen consecutive days.
Tenants’ rights groups argue the list of causes for eviction shouldn’t be expanded because it could result in tenants unfairly losing their homes.
However, landlords argue that broader scope for evictions is important to help them protect their property and avoid disturbing other tenants or neighbors.
Restricting the location of eviction hearings
A landlord may file the paperwork to start an eviction in the district court of his or her choosing.
According to some policymakers, landlords sometimes abuse this power by using a court that is very far away from the tenant. If the tenant does not attend the court hearings – for example because he or she is unable to find transportation to court – the landlord automatically wins the eviction.
A renter can write to the court and ask to move the eviction proceedings to a closer court, but many tenants are unaware of this right.
Legislators have sponsored bills that would require eviction proceedings to take place in the district court where the property is located, but none of those bills have passed.
“New Hampshire should increase legal protections for renters.”
- According to a 2017 report from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, New Hampshire has a rental vacancy rate of just 1.7%. This is much lower than the average for the entire Northeast, which is 5.2%. This low vacancy rate contributes to New Hampshire's rising rents, and makes it very difficult for renters to find affordable units. Since the market currently favors landlords, the state should therefore give renters more legal protections.
- According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, “New Hampshire has the oldest housing of anywhere in the United States with 62% of its homes built before lead-based paint was banned in 1978.” However, landlords are only required to remove lead paint from a property after a child is tested and shows a very high blood lead level. New Hampshire should take a more proactive response to lead exposure that requires landlords to remove lead paint before a child is harmed.
- In any dispute between landlord and tenant, the landlord has money at stake. The renter doesn’t just have money at stake – he or she has a home a stake. The law should therefore always favor the right of the tenant to stay in his or her home.
“New Hampshire should not increase legal protections for renters.”
- Many states have fewer protections for renters than New Hampshire. For example, most states allow landlords to ask for a security deposit larger than one month’s rent.
- If New Hampshire gives renters more power over landlords, residents are less likely to choose to become landlords. Given that New Hampshire already has a shortage of available rental properties, the state should encourage more people to become landlords, not discourage them.
- Giving landlords more power to evict wouldn’t just help landlords, it would help protect other tenants from a disruptive neighbor. When tenants call the police on their neighbors, they are often told that it is a civil matter and that the landlord is responsible for removing the tenant.