Bill would require landlords to inform tenants of legal aid when issuing evictions

By ETHAN DEWITT

New Hampshire Bulletin

Published: 05-01-2023 11:08 AM

New Hampshire senators are considering a bill that would require landlords to give information on legal aid to tenants who are being evicted.

House Bill 379, which passed the House on a voice vote earlier this month, would mandate that eviction notices given to tenants also include the contact information for New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which helps represent low-income residents in eviction cases.

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Rep. Ellen Read, a Newmarket Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor, said informing tenants of their rights could help reduce unnecessary evictions. The bill was intended to address situations where legal representation could have actually made a difference – where a judge might have ruled in the tenant’s favor if they had counsel and had submitted the proper motions, Read said. 

Landlords often do have attorneys they rely on as part of their business, Read said, arguing that HB 379 would help tenants balance the scales. 

“If you’re opposed to it, you’re saying that you want to keep a tenant in the dark so that they do not have the ability to get their legal counsel that they should have by right,” she said. “In other words, you as a landlord want an unfair advantage in court.”

The bill is supported by New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which provides assistance in conjunction with 603 Legal Aid. 

But Nick Norman, the director of legislative affairs for the Apartment Association of New Hampshire, said the association had concerns the bill could cause evictions to be voided in court because landlords did not provide adequate information. 

Norman submitted an amendment to direct the court system instead to issue the notice to tenants.

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“There’s a concern, structurally, if you put – the way this is worded – a demand to have this on the eviction notice, that that could be interpreted as some kind of right to be told,” he said. “… We’re not saying that we’re opposed to having something of this notice on the eviction notice, we just want to clarify and handle these concerns.”

Sen Sharon Carson, the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Londonderry Republican, raised a concern that requiring a notice to tenants about their legal resources could give them an avenue to contest the eviction if NHLA did not have capacity to help them.

McKinney said that NHLA attorneys are often backlogged with tenants to represent, and that some tenants aren’t immediately represented. But she said she did not think that scenario would slow down the eviction. 

“I don’t believe that that would change the process at all,” she said. 

The committee will vote on its recommendation for the bill in the coming weeks. 

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