The state Supreme Court ruled on August 11 that landlords are required to provide tenants correct eviction notices, notices that inform them of their right to stay in their home while they dispute an eviction in court.
This victory for tenants’ rights began with an emergency call for help to the Legal Advice & Referral Center, which counseled the clients. NH Legal Assistance provided the court its legal interpretation of eviction laws at the invitation of the court but did not represent the tenants.
The case involved tenants who received an eviction notice after falling a month behind in their rent. Guided by LARC in their defense against the eviction in Circuit Court, the tenants successfully argued the landlord had not informed them of all their rights, including:
- An eviction notice is not a court order requiring a tenant to vacate the rental property.
- If a tenant stays in the property, the landlord can go to court and start an eviction lawsuit against the tenant.
- The tenant has a right to dispute the reasons for the eviction at a court hearing.
“Being served with an eviction notice can be very traumatic,” said attorney Jeff Goodrich of LARC, which provides free legal advice to low-income individuals. “Most people are unaware of what rights they have. The information contained on an eviction notice can mean the difference between having shelter or becoming homeless, and I am very pleased to know that the justices of our Supreme Court agree that this information is so vital.”
In his appeal to the state Supreme Court, the landlord had argued that he was not required to include tenant rights information in the eviction notice. The court disagreed, saying that allowing improper and incomplete notices “would, in effect, create two classes of tenants — those who are informed of their legal rights and those who are not informed of their legal rights, all at the landlord’s discretion.”
NHLA attorney Stephen Tower, who helped prepare the NHLA’s legal interpretation to the court, said the ruling is a vital protection for all renters. “This decision ensures that no tenant loses their right to be heard in court,” he said. “Many tenants read an eviction notice stating they must leave by a certain day, and think they must leave by that day, not realizing that once they leave, they give up their right to fight the eviction.”