Tenants facing eviction could enter into mediation with their landlord to avoid an eviction court battle under federal legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.
The Prevent Evictions Act would fund mediation programs with federal grants, provide translators and investigate the possibility of a rent insurance program to which landlords or tenants would pay premiums to cover the cost of rent when a tenant cannot pay.
Hassan said her legislation would address circumstances such as a car repair or sickness that prevent a tenant from paying rent on time and leads to eviction.
“When a family is kicked out of their home because an unexpected expense prevented them from making the rent that month, the entire community — and economy — suffers,” Hassan said in a statement. She said New Hampshire faces affordable housing challenges, and when workers can’t find affordable housing or are evicted, that hurts families and the entire economy.
The senator’s office said the bill is designed to address “small-dollar evictions.”
The president of a landlord group said mediation and rent insurance would be acceptable. But the landlord faulted Hassan for claiming that a landlord will evict tenants who can’t make a rent payment because of an emergency.
“To say landlords evict for a couple hundred dollars is so naive I’m speechless,” said Debbie Valente, president of the New Hampshire Property Owners Association.
Valente said eviction is extremely costly for landlords, due to months of lost rent, property damage and disposal of left-behind property.
“If it’s a few hundred dollars, we’ll work with tenants. Eviction is not our first port of call,” Valente said. She questioned how many landlords Hassan has conferred with.
She also said that New Hampshire courts encourage mediation before an eviction.
Meanwhile, the director of a legal assistance program praised the legislation. Last year, New Hampshire courts dealt with more than 7,000 eviction cases, said Elliott Berry, director of housing justice at New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
“It’s probably worse than ever,” Berry said. “Rents are really high, vacancy rates are tiny and it results in a lot of evictions.”
He said the overwhelming majority of evictions are for non-payment of rent. Other issues include lease violations such as drug use and more residents than specified in the lease. He mostly represents people who challenge their evictions from subsidized housing.
Once people are evicted, it becomes part of a court record, and landlords avoid renting to them.
“The market’s so tight it’s a one-way ticket to homelessness,” Berry said.
In answers to a series of questions, Hassan wrote that her effort is a way to avoid evictions, which are costly for both tenants and landlords.
“Tenants need to pay their rent – that’s not up for debate,” she said.
She said evictions are part of affordable housing issues, and she hears about affordable housing from people, organizations and businesses that struggle to attract skilled workers.
Her effort has won the endorsement of Housing Action New Hampshire and Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize wining “Evicted.”
The New Hampshire Judicial Branch is exploring the possibility of a landlord-tenant program and would welcome the grant funding under Hassan’s bill, said Heather Kulp, coordinator of the Judicial Branch’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Coordinator.
Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland are bill sponsors.