Emergency eviction order a temporary fix for economic fallout from COVID-19

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Evictions in New Hampshire have been put on hold by order of the Governor as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo Illustration/Kathy Staub

MANCHESTER, NH — New Hampshire’s high rents and the shortage of affordable housing was already a source of anxiety for many New Hampshire renters before the coronavirus pandemic arrived. As coronavirus begins to reveal itself, it is clear that the impacts of the disease will not be limited to people’s physical health.

Last week, as businesses across the state shut down because of coronavirus,  nearly 22,000 Granite Staters filed for unemployment. Job loss and reduced working hours for New Hampshire workers have exacerbated concerns about paying the rent and keeping a roof over their head. 

One of the first emergency orders Governor Chris Sununu issued on March 17 was a temporary prohibition on evictions and foreclosures. Executive Order 2020-04 suspends the initiation or enforcement of eviction and foreclosure proceedings. According to a spokesperson from his office he made the move because he “wants to ensure no one loses their home or their business due to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The original order is set to expire on April 7. A spokesman from the Governor’s office stated in an email that he is actively reviewing the date of the order and wants Granite Staters to know that extensions will likely be made as the state continues to respond to COVID19.

People who have lived in hotels or rooming houses for less than 90 days are not covered under the executive order.

The eviction process takes several months and landlords and tenants who are in the middle of an eviction started before the coronavirus crisis took hold will remain in limbo until the ban is lifted.  

Elliott Berry of the New Hampshire Legal Assistance’s Housing Justice Project wants renters to understand that this temporary moratorium on evictions doesn’t mean that tenants can stop paying their rent. 

In fact, section 4 of the emergency order specifically states: 

No provision in this Order shall be construed as relieving an individual of their obligations to pay rent, make mortgage payments, or any other obligation which an individual may have under a tenancy or mortgage.

“If you stop paying your rent, you may receive an eviction order when the State of Emergency ends”, Berry said.

For people who are living in public housing or receive Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, Berry  recommends that they immediately notify their Public Housing Authority of any loss of income due to unemployment or reduction of hours. Under HUD rules the renters contribution is limited to 30 percent of their income. Loss of a job or reduction of hours means that HUD will contribute more and the renter will contribute less.

One Manchester landlord, who prefers to remain anonymous, owns rental property in her neighborhood. Her tenants include a school bus driver, and several food service and retail workers who have seen their hours cut or their jobs completely disappear due to closures. 

Although she doesn’t have a mortgage to pay, she still needs to pay for heat, water and sewer, insurance, electricity for common areas, and property taxes regardless of whether or not the rent comes in.  “I’m willing to work with people. I just ask them to come to me with a plan.” she said. 

“If this is what needs to happen to keep people safe, then I will just have to live with it. We all need to look out for one another. When it is over I hope this brings people to a better place,” she added.