Rent is due this week for many tenants across New Hampshire. But due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, many have lost their income and may not be able to make their payments.
Gov. Chris Sununu did issue an executive order earlier this month in response to COVID-19 that prohibits landlords from evicting thier tenants for the time being. NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Elliott Berry, an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, about what this really means for tenants and landlords right now.
Rick Ganley: We've been hearing some confusion from our listeners about what will happen if they're unable to make their rent on time this month or next. What advice have you been giving to tenants?
Elliott Berry: Well, the advice we give to tenants is that they should pay their rent if they possibly can. Obviously, a lot of people have lost their income partially or totally due to the virus. So many times they're not going to be able to. But certainly whenever it's possible they should, including trying to access other funds like local welfare or any kind of federal assistance. But again, if they are unable to pay, they will be protected from eviction until May 4 or [when] the emergency expires.
Rick Ganley: And the state reported over 40,000 applications for unemployment last week. It's an all time record. What would you say to someone who just won't be able to make that payment on time tomorrow?
Elliott Berry: I'd say again, they need to apply for some kind of public assistance or, as you say, unemployment compensation, so that they can pay as much as they can. And again, the reason for this is that this emergency could go on for quite a while, but at sometime it's going to end. And you want to make every effort that you can ... not to be looking at a huge rental arrearage when the emergency is over. Because this is not a legal reason to avoid your rental obligation. The emergency order is very clear that tenants still have the obligation to pay. So say, if we come to June or July and the emergency moratorium is lifted, they're not going to be able to pay the rent and they're likely to be evicted. So, again, our message to all tenants is to do whatever you can to pay as much of your rent as you can.
Rick Ganley: What about people who are living in subsidized housing and have lost their income?
Elliott Berry: The first thing they should do is make a written request to have their rent reduced to 30 percent of their income, and to make that request in writing with whatever verification or details they can provide as to the loss of their income.
Rick Ganley: Well, what about landlords who rely on these payments for their income? What resources are available for them if their tenants just can't make their rent right now?
Elliott Berry: Well, the major reliefs they have is that in regards to their mortgage payment, they have the same protection that the tenants have. In this case, from foreclosure. And although it's going to work a hardship on them, just like it were, say, a hardship on tenants. But these are extreme times and they call for extreme measures.
Rick Ganley: I imagine the communication is the key here between landlord and tenant.
Elliott Berry: Absolutely. I have no doubt that in most cases tenants will fall somewhat behind, and that landlords and tenants will get together and work out reasonable repayment agreements so that both sides avoid the losses that come with the eviction.