Landlords in New Hampshire can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in New Hampshire.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated January 12, 2022
This article explains the basics of New Hampshire’s eviction laws and tenants’ and renters’ rights during the eviction process. This article may be helpful for you if you’re a residential tenant in New Hampshire facing eviction threats from your landlord, you're behind on your rent payments, or your lease is about to expire.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process landlords use to remove renters from their property. All residential leases are regulated by state law. Your landlord must go through a court procedure and get a court order to evict you from your home. Simply put, your landlord can’t legally lock you out of your home if you stop making rent payments until they get a court order. Removing a tenant without a court order is an illegal eviction or illegal lockout.
Who Can Be Evicted in New Hampshire?
Generally, to be evicted, there must be a landlord-tenant relationship. This type of relationship is usually established when a tenant agrees to pay rent to the landlord in exchange for housing.
In some instances, someone living with a tenant can be evicted even if they’re not listed on the lease. In New Hampshire, even tenants that rent part of a privately owned and owner-occupied home can be evicted for almost any reason.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in New Hampshire?
A landlord can evict a tenant for violating the lease. New Hampshire law provides five "good" causes for eviction:
The tenant doesn’t pay rent.
The tenant (or someone in their household or a guest) causes substantial damage to the premises.
The tenant or their family member threatens the health or safety of the public.
The tenant fails to comply with a material term of the lease.
The landlord has “other good cause” for eviction.
"Other good cause" is defined very broadly. It can include a landlord's economic or business reasons or certain actions or inactions from the tenant. Before evicting a tenant for other good cause, the landlord has to give the tenant 30 days' written notice. Then notice will explain that the landlord will evict for this type of behavior if it continues.
Additionally, a landlord can terminate the lease for good cause if a tenant refuses to agree to a change in the existing rental agreement for increased rent.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
If a landlord or property manager wants to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, the landlord is required to provide a “demand for rent” and a “conditional notice to cure.” This seven-day notice is meant to inform the tenant of their right to avoid the eviction by paying the rent they owe and paying money to address breaching the lease. This is called liquidated damages. A conditional notice to cure or quit gives the tenant a chance to comply with the lease terms before getting evicted.
The tenant then has until the expiration date on the notice to “cure” (to pay) the amount owed plus $15 in liquidated damages to be able to stay on the premises. If the tenant refuses or fails to pay, the landlord can file the eviction lawsuit at the end of the seven days. As the tenant, you still have the opportunity to pay after the eviction notice expires. But if you wait until this time, the liquidated damages will increase to $140.
Lease Expiration or Termination
In New Hampshire, a landlord can evict a tenant after the landlord terminates the lease or the lease expires.
When a lease expires it means it comes to an end. If a lease ends and the tenant refuses to leave, they’re considered a holdover tenant and can be evicted. The eviction process looks a little different depending on the term of your lease.
Fixed-term leases: Most fixed-term leases are a year long. If you have a fix-term lease, your landlord can’t end the lease before the lease period is over unless they have legal cause to do so. So long as the landlord waits until the lease period ends, they don’t have to give the tenant prior notice to move out unless the lease specifically requires it. If the tenant refuses to move out at the end of the lease and the landlord hasn’t accepted next month’s rent, the landlord may start the eviction process.
Month-to-Month leases: A month-to-month lease is an agreement to rent the property on a monthly basis. With a month-to-month tenancy where there is no fixed period of time for the lease to end, the landlord is required to give the tenant 30 days’ written notice of eviction. If the tenant fails to move at the end of the 30 days, the landlord can begin the eviction process.
In contrast, a landlord may terminate a lease if a tenant breaches the lease agreement or engages in some type of illegal behavior. New Hampshire law gives landlords broad discretion to terminate leases. That said, the landlord still has to go through the court to legally evict the tenant.
The New Hampshire Eviction Process
This is a basic overview of the eviction process in New Hampshire for residential evictions.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
In New Hampshire, the eviction process follows the same steps regardless of the reason for the eviction. But there are different timing requirements for notifying the tenant of the eviction.
To legally evict the tenant, the landlord must give them a written notice of eviction in a legal document known as "written notice to cure/quit or leave." The notice can be an official court document or an unofficial handwritten note. A verbal warning isn’t sufficient. This notice to quit may be conditional or unconditional.
If you get a conditional notice to quit, you’llhave a specific time limit to cure or address the lease violation. In New Hampshire, this is most commonly used for nonpayment of rent.
An unconditional notice to quit means that there’s nothing you can do to cure the violation and the landlord wants you out by a specific date. This type of notice is typically used when there is an illegal activity, multiple counts of past-due rent, or some other serious issue.
New Hampshire law requires each eviction notice to have an expiration date. The expiration date gives the tenant a specific time period to vacate the premises to avoid an eviction lawsuit.
The landlord must give the tenant seven days' notice for:
Nonpayment of rent
Substantial property damage
Behavior that adversely affects health or safety.
For a lease violation or other good cause, the landlord is required to give the tenant 30 days' notice before continuing the eviction process. If the tenant doesn’t move out at the end of the 30 days, the landlord can start the eviction process.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
Once the landlord provides you with an eviction notice, you may or may not have time to cure (or address) the cause of action, which is the reason for eviction. If you have time to cure and fail to do so, the landlord can proceed with the eviction process and file the eviction lawsuit in court. You don’t have to vacate when you get an eviction notice.
The landlord must first request the circuit court judge’s permission to evict you, which is called a Landlord and Tenant Writ. The circuit court staff will assign a docket number to the eviction case and return the writ to the landlord. The landlord is required to have the sheriff serve the tenant. This means the sheriff will deliver the writ to you. The sheriff will note the “return date” on the writ. You must file an appearance with the court by the return date or the court may evict you and/or order you to pay the landlord because they did not hear from you.
The writ serves as a summons for you to appear in court. It’s important not to ignore the writ because it provides the deadline for filing an appearance form if you want to dispute the eviction. The appearance form is the legal equivalent of asking for a hearing. If you file the form with the court before the deadline, the court will schedule a hearing within the next 7-14 days. At the hearing, you can represent yourself or have a tenant’s rights lawyer represent you. All tenant forms can be picked up in person at any circuit court or accessed online anytime.
If you fail to file an appearance or appear on the hearing date, the court may issue a default judgment against you. This means you lose the case because you didn’t respond to the lawsuit. When the court issues a default judgment against you in an eviction case, you’ll either have to pay the unpaid rent or leave the rental property. If you don’t leave the property after the court issues an order to vacate then the judge may order local law enforcement to remove you. You can be locked out of your home anytime after the court grants a writ of possession.
If the court issues a writ of possession, you should begin packing your things immediately because the sheriff can come at any time to evict you. You will only have around 10-20 minutes to gather your belongings and leave the premises. After that, you have seven days to speak to your landlord to get any possessions you left behind.
Pay and Stay Agreements
New Hampshire law allows the landlord and tenant to make any agreement about repaying the rent or allowing the tenancy to continue before the trial date. New Hampshire law also allows special court-supervised agreements, or “pay and stay” agreements to be issued so that the tenant can continue to live in the rental property so long as they comply with the payment plan.
In this agreement, the court issues a judgment for the landlord but holds off on the writ of possession so long as the tenant keeps up with the payment plan. If the tenant doesn’t keep up, the landlord can file an affidavit of non-compliance with the court to request the writ of possession. The court will usually issue the writ of possession within five business days without having a hearing.
If the tenant chooses not to go forward with an appeal or loses the appeal, then the landlord can finally have the tenant evicted. Once the court issues the writ of possession in the landlord’s favor, they can have the sheriff serve and remove the tenant from the property. The tenant is required to take all personal property with them at this point. After the tenant is removed the landlord can enter the property and change the locks.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
Tenants can use affirmative defenses to dispute the landlord’s eviction claim and counterclaims to offset or reduce the amount they owe the landlord. You’ll have to prove any affirmative defenses you raise or counterclaims you bring by using evidence and arguments.
An affirmative defense may help prevent an eviction if the tenant successfully proves that the landlord’s claims are untrue during the trial. An affirmative defense may be that you’ve paid your back rent, you’ve fixed the damages, or even that your landlord lied and you never acted in the way you were accused. You then have the opportunity at trial to prove your defense(s) with evidence.
Once you add the defense in your answer, you’ll have a period of discovery to collect evidence from your landlord to prove these defenses. Your discovery requests have to be submitted to your landlord no more than five days after the return date. You can start by informally asking your landlord for responses and documentation that you need. However, your landlord may be unwilling to share this information. If so, you will have to formally mail or deliver written interrogatories and requests for documents, which can be done in one document.
Interrogatories are questions that you come up with that your landlord is legally required to answer, either with documentation or through a deposition. A deposition is a scheduled and recorded meeting where you or your attorney can ask questions that your landlord has to answer under oath. Evidence that may support your defenses may include contradictory responses from your landlord, documentation of paid rent, pictures that repairs have never been made, or inspection reports.
A counterclaim is a claim that could be brought against the landlord in a separate action, but you bring the claim at the same time as the eviction lawsuit. You may bring a counterclaim against your landlord for any type of discrimination, destruction of your property, or illegal eviction actions, such as changing the locks or entering without your permission. When the case is for unpaid rent, you can use a counterclaim to offset or reduce the amount that the landlord claims you owe. To successfully bring a claim or counterclaim to offset the amount owed, you must file the claim on or before the Return Day that’s listed on the Landlord and Tenant Writ.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
After an eviction trial, the court will enter a judgment either on the same day or shortly after the trial. If you lose, you can file an appeal. This is a multi-step process that begins by filing a notice of intent to appeal within seven days of the court issuing its decision. You’ll then need to file a notice of appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court within 30 days.
In New Hampshire, if you lose the hearing, you can ask for a discretionary stay for up to 90 days. You must pay the rent as it comes due directly to the court, not the past-due rent. It’s up to you to keep track of all payments, so you have proof of payments. If you appeal the decision for a nonpayment of rent eviction, then you’re required to pay one week’s rent when you file the appeal and continue to pay the court rent weekly while the appeal is pending.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in New Hampshire
If you’re facing eviction threats, an eviction lawsuit, or you’re behind on rent, here are helpful tips.
If you can’t pay your rent, be proactive and ask your landlord to set up a payment plan. You can work out an agreement with your landlord anytime before your trial date to repay rent or continue the tenancy. Make sure any agreement you come up with is in writing and you keep track of your payments to the landlord.
Having an eviction on your rental history looks bad to future landlords and can restrict future rental opportunities. Think about the best possible outcome for your case, which may be negotiating a move-out day by a particular date, so your landlord drops the case.
You should collect and keep all relevant evidence for your case, including documents, photos, videos, and any other evidence that supports your claims about the property’s conditions. Hiring a property inspector to provide a report about the property's condition can help support your claims.
If you’re unable to attend the hearing date, make sure to contact the clerk of court as soon as possible to Request for Continuance, asking the judge to temporarily delay your eviction case. Otherwise, you risk a default judgment.
If you’re having difficulty paying your rent, your town or city welfare office may be able to help you pay to avoid eviction.
Tenant Resources in New Hampshire
If you need legal advice or assistance with the eviction process, you have many options, including:
NH Legal Aid: Legal Issues During COVID-19 Crisis — If you’ve been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, there are resources to help. You may also benefit from the New Hampshire Emergency Rental Assistance Program.