What’s the deal with evictions in New Hampshire?
The last tenant you want to have inhabiting your apartment is one who can’t stop setting it on fire. You read that right – imagine being sound asleep, in your UNH jammies, and the fire department is calling you for the seventh time this year because of this one tenant.
Understandably, you’d be furious. But then when you find out what caused the seventh distress call, you might just quit the property management business for good.
One such tenant exists in Manchester. Gerry Pilotte, 79, really enjoys a good piece of toast. But, for some reason, doesn’t own a toaster. The only way to satisfy his palette, apparently, is to turn his iron into a multipurpose tool. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, Gerry’s been distracted by the television until his apartment is filled with white smoke, and by then, the fire alarms are going off and emergency crews are on their way.
Now, if you’re mad, imagine how you’d feel if you were his neighbor? In Gerry’s case, there is no shortage of annoyed and worried neighbors. What would you do in this scenario? Is there enough ground to constitute an eviction of a longtime tenant like Gerry?
According to eviction laws in the State of New Hampshire, Gerry’s landlords have a right to ask him to leave because of his repetitive behavior that is a nuisance to his neighbors. However, there may be other factors to consider, and it’s important to follow the letter of the law to avoid unnecessary legal fees or other fines.
What are some reasons I can evict a tenant?
Not every tenant is going to be a “Gerry” — maybe they’ll be a “Kerry” or a “Larry” with their own set of nuisances. The good news is, the New Hampshire Department of Justice has outlined five situations in which one may have reasonable cause to evict a tenant.
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- Rent is late or unpaid
- The tenant or their guests caused significant damage to the property
- Lease agreement has been broken or violated
- Tenant’s behavior poses a threat to the health and safety of others
- “Other good cause.”
If one of these things doesn’t seem like the others, don’t worry. “Other good cause” is a plainly ambiguous phrase. It is defined as “…any legitimate business or economic reason” which isn’t always somebody’s fault. Here are some examples:
- If you wish to change the terms of the lease, but the tenant doesn’t agree to these changes. A 30-day written notice of changes must be provided to the tenants before evictions can begin.
- The property itself is unsuitable to rent, because of events outside of the tenant’s control. This may include potential lead exposure, asbestos, or other hazards that would take longer than 30 days to remedy.
- If there are issues with the property that would take less than 30 days to fix (i.e. infestation), but the tenant is unwilling to cooperate so the property can be brought up to code.
Regardless of if the landlord or property owner believes there is “good cause,” it is up to a judge to decide whether or not an eviction is fair.
Are there situations in which I cannot evict a tenant?
- Termination of a lease is not grounds for eviction.
- If a tenant has taken on payments for utilities that are the landlord’s responsibility. For example, payments to prevent utilities from being turned off, if the cost of the utilities exceeds any past due rent they may owe. Tenant must provide proof of payment for said utilities.
- If domestic abuse has taken place at the property, a landlord cannot evict the victim or terminate their lease. In addition, the owner can bar any party from the premises if there is a valid protective order against the perpetrator.
- Tenants cannot be evicted as a form of retaliation. That is to say, if the terms of the lease are changed within six months of a tenant exercising any legal rights regarding habitability of the property, joining a tenant organization, or contacting the health board, you are responsible for providing burden of proof that the eviction is the result of something else.
What is the process normally like?
Before we take a look at the legal proceedings for removing a tenant from a property, it is important to note that court cases can cost valuable time and money. If possible, try to find a way to settle out of court. If that’s not an option, then the following is what you can expect from an eviction case.
- For nonpayment of rent, make a written demand for payment. Tenants have until the end of the 7-day notice to pay rent plus $15. If they pay the rent, the eviction cannot proceed.
- For all other evictions, serve tenants a notice to quit. 7 days is required for almost all evictions. 30 days is required for month-to-month leases. The notice must state the specific reason for eviction, and can be delivered in person, or left on their door.
- When the notice is up, issue a writ of summons. It must contain a notice from the district court that outlines how a tenant may contest the eviction, states that the tenant cannot be evicted without a court order, informs the tenant that they have the right to have the court proceeding recorded. The writ also needs to explain that tenants can protest the eviction by filing an appearance in district court within 7 days.
- Tenants may file a counterclaim if they are owed more money than any back due rent.
- If a judge rules that either party is owed money, it cannot be more than $1,500. Both the tenant and the property owner or landlord has the right to return to court to ask for the remainder of the money owed to them.
- If the court rules in favor of the landlord or property owner, they will issue a writ of possession. This will allow the sheriff to legally remove the tenant and their property.
- Either party can file an appeal at this time.
Where can I learn more?
If you have any questions, or think you may want to start the eviction process with a tenant in New Hampshire, please consult a lawyer.
- New Hampshire Department of Justice Rental Handbook
- New Hampshire Legislature Chapter 540: Actions Against Tenants
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Landlord/Tenant Proceedings
- Nolo: Month-to-Month Notice Guide
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