Landlords banned from evicting tenants during the coronavirus pandemic can begin the eviction process as soon as Wednesday in what one legal assistance attorney predicted will be a “tsunami” of displaced tenants.
“I don’t think we’ll see it next week. I think we’ll see it in August ... the expected tsunami,” Stephanie Bray from New Hampshire Legal Assistance said Tuesday.
But the head of the New Hampshire Property Owners Association thinks that is overblown. An estimated 80% to 90% of property owners are working with tenants to develop repayment plans, according to President Debbie Valente.
“Most of us agreed that it isn’t the right thing to put people out of their homes,” said Valente, a Manchester landlord with more than 30 rental units. “It’s not our intention to do so if tenants are working with us. It’s a hardship on everybody at the moment.”
Gov. Chris Sununu lifted the ban on evictions effective Wednesday. Owners of properties that are tied to federal-backed loans or programs, however, can’t evict tenants through July 25.
Tuesday marked the first day people could apply for aid from the $35 million New Hampshire Housing Relief Program. Information is available at capnh.org.
Sununu said the state’s community action programs will be administering the assistance to renters, homebuyers and those who can’t pay utility bills.
“We want to make sure we are providing an off-ramp. Some families may need a little time to devise payment plans and negotiate with their landlords or mortgage companies,” Sununu said at a briefing Tuesday.
Sununu says he would not support pending legislation adopted by the House and Senate that would extend the ban on evictions and foreclosures.
“At some point, we are affecting the livelihood of these landlords,” Sununu said. “They have to pay their own bills, too.”
Over the past seven weeks, the Community Action Partnership of Strafford County received more than 250 calls seeking help with housing costs, according to CEO Betsey Andrews Parker.
“We’re estimating in our area that there’s anywhere from 600 to at least 1,100 people minimum that would qualify for this,” she said.
A two-income family making $120,000 a year could have experienced a job loss with the household income dropping to $80,000.
“That here is a huge hit, and those are the folks who should be reaching out to us,” she said.
Unlike other government programs, this housing assistance doesn’t come with an income cap.
People whose children can’t go to summer camp or can’t access child care might have to cut back on working hours and also could qualify for government help, she said.
For Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, “we’ve gotten a couple hundred requests at our agency so far,” said Greg Schneider, innovation and strategy director at Southern New Hampshire Services.
People can receive a one-time grant of up to $2,500 or multiple months of financial help under the state program, he said.
Bray also urged people to go to their city or town to seek rental assistance.
Some people who receive an eviction notice in early July could go through the eviction process by August, depending on how quickly the courts cycle through their backlog of cases, according to Bray. The managing attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance’s Claremont office concentrates on housing and mortgage-related matters.
“If the tenant comes up with that entire amount demanded, plus a $15 just-because-we-can fee, it will go away,” Bray said.
Landlords are now required by the state court system to fill out an “affidavit of compliance with CARES Act” to determine if evictions should be prohibited through July 25. They have to wait until after July 25 if their properties have federally backed mortgages from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Agriculture as well as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or if their tenants use certain federal programs.
Dean Christon, CEO and executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, warned that the end of the $600 weekly unemployment bonus in late July will affect the housing market.
“While the market has remained generally stable, we are concerned that when expanded unemployment benefits come to an end, some owners and renters will experience significant financial stress,” Christon wrote in a new housing market snapshot.
“Our theory is if there’s going to be a problem, it’s going to show up in August and September,” he said in a phone interview.
Figures nationally and in New Hampshire show people not paying their rent at 15 to 20%, which is “higher than before the pandemic but still a lot less than people predicted,” Christon said.
The housing snapshot showed the gross median rent in New Hampshire for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,413 a month, or 5% higher than a year ago.
“I think most property owners prefer to work with their tenants and set up payment plans, so they don’t have to go through the eviction process,” Christon said.
Reporter Kevin Landrigan contributed to this story.