Landlord and Tenant Rights

LFDA Editor

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.

If you are a renter who needs help in a legal disagreement with a landlord, contact New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Landlords looking for more information on their rights and responsibilities can learn more from the New Hampshire Property Owners Association

Rental applications

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.

Lease contracts

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.  

Security deposits

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.

Click here to read the minimum health and safety standards landlords must follow in New Hampshire.

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 New Hampshire Legislature is considering a bill – SB 247 – that would make various changes to the laws around lead poisoning.  For example, the bill would provide some state funding for landlords to complete lead hazard reduction, but it would also require landlords to more proactively address lead contamination.   

Regulating bedbugs
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 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.

Eviction

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.

Click here to read New Hampshire’s law on evictions.

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).

If you are willing but unable to pay rent, contact your town or city welfare office for assistance.

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.

 

Related Issues

Consumer Protection Law

Homeless and Panhandling Laws

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By LFDA Editor

“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.

"Against" Position

By LFDA Editor

“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.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Killed in the House

Allows a court to appoint a receiver to repair a property which poses a threat to the health and safety of tenants.

Tabled in the Senate

Makes various changes to the laws governing the state Commission for Human Rights. For example, this bill adds "gender identity" to the state's equal opportunity housing law.

Killed in the House

Allows a court to appoint a receiver for a manufactured housing park if more than 30% of tenants are delinquent in property tax payments.

Killed in the Senate

If 20% of the households in a manufactured housing park sign a petition, this bill creates a process for the state to review a proposed rent increase at the manufactured housing park. The House amended the bill to instead create a committee to study the issue of rent increases in manufactured housing parks.

Killed in the House

Permits the landlord to include additional charges owed in a demand for rent, such as utility costs.

Killed in the House

Increases the maximum allowable amount for a security deposit paid to a landlord to 2 months' rent.

Killed in the House

Increases the maximum amount which may be awarded as a money judgment in a landlord-tenant proceeding, from $1,500 to $3,000.

Killed in the House

Allows a landlord of a commercial rental to sell the personal property of a tenant 30 days after termination of the tenancy and giving notice to lienholders of the property.

Killed in the Senate

Requires a tenant to keep an address on file with the court following a judgment for the landlord for unpaid rent or damages.

Killed in the House

Allows rental and lease agreements for residential property to include a clause prohibiting tenants from possessing firearms, explosives, or ammunition within the premises.

Signed by Governor

Makes various changes to the laws regarding lead. In particular, this bill:
- Establishes universal blood testing for lead in children ages one and two (a parent or guardian may refuse the test)
- Lowers the legal limit for blood lead levels in children that triggers state action
- Requires landlord to install/maintain faucet filtration systems if a child has a blood lead level over the legal limit
- Requires schools and licensed child care facilities to regularly test water for lead, and implement a remediation plan if there are high levels of lead
- Adds failure to comply with lead regulations to the list of reasons by a daycare can have its license suspended, revoked, or denied
- Requires insurers to cover blood lead testing
- Appropriates $6 million to help landlords pay for the costs of lead remediation
The House amended the bill to change the $6 million grant program into a loan program. The House amendment also requires that pre-1978 building previously used for non-residential purposes be certified "lead safe" before being used as residential rental units or as daycare facilities.

Tabled in the Senate

Appropriates $25 million to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority for affordable housing. The Senate amended the bill to reduce the funding to $5 million.

Killed in the House

Establishes notice requirements for termination of tenancy in a homeless shelter.

Signed by Governor

Allows a tenant to terminate a month-to-month lease with 30 days notice. The Senate amended the bill to clarify that the date of termination does not coincide with the rent due date, and that the lessee is responsible for the rent for the entire month in which the notice expires.

Killed in the House

Increases the maximum money judgment the court may award in a landlord-tenant action from $1,500 to $3,000.

Killed in the Senate

Forbids the use of accessory dwelling units for short-term rentals.

Killed in the House

Increases the maximum money judgment awarded in a landlord-tenant case from $1500 to $5000.

Signed by Governor

Provides that the agreement between a landlord and tenant to stay an eviction proceeding may incorporate the arrearage, future rent due, court costs, and service fees.

Killed in the Senate

Allows landlords to evict tenants for failure to pay a utility service or for allowing a person to stay on the premises who is not on the lease for more than 14 days. The House amended the bill to also require landlord-tenant actions to take place in the court in the same jurisdiction as the rental property.

Interim Study

Requires landlords to keep units cool for tenants with respiratory or other health related issues requiring air conditioning.

Killed in the House

Makes the landowner liable for unpaid tax bills of manufactured housing owners.

Killed in the House

Allows a landlord to collect first and last month’s rent in addition to a security deposit.

Signed by Governor

Permits a landlord to remove a tenant’s property if it is blocking access to a common area or dumpster, leaking damaging fluids, or is unregistered or inoperable.

Killed in the Senate

Provides additional grounds for termination of tenancy with 7 days notice.

Should NH increase legal protections for renters?

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Issue Status

NH passed a law changing state rules for lead in rental properties, implementing universal testing for kids under age two and lowering the limit of lead in a child's blood that triggers state intervention. 

Read more about the new lead rules

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