New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Helping to balance the scales of justice for everyone since 1971.

Appellate Success in Landlord-Tenant Dispute

Posted Jul 19, 2019

NHLA Housing Advocates file a brief with the New Hampshire Supreme Court and help guarantee protections for tenants across the state


                  The NH Supreme Court recently resolved a landlord-tenant dispute in which NHLA submitted an amicus brief supporting tenants' rights to habitable living conditions. The brief was submitted upon the request of attorneys at McLane Middleton, who represented the client pro bono. This case involved an action brought by a tenant against her landlord due to his failure to repair the locks on her front door and window that resulted in an attempted retaliatory eviction. The trial court issued an ex parte order finding that the landlord had violated the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment ordered him to take actions to fix conditions in the apartment. At the final hearing on the matter the judge merely found that the landlord had remedied the conditions, but did not make a finding as to when that remedy occurred and failed to award the client any statutory damages or attorney’s fees. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that state statute requires landlords to pay damages and costs if they have been found to have violated certain tenant’s rights – making clear an important protection for tenants across the state. Congratulations to McLane Middleton and NHLA attorneys, Kerstin Cornell and Elliott Berry, for their successful advocacy!


 Elliott Berry, NHLA Housing Project Director
 Kerstin Cornell, NHLA Housing Advocate



Here's a summary of the case provided by Kay Drought, NHLA's Director of Litigation:


                  Last fall, NHLA attorneys Kerstin Cornell and Elliott Berry submitted an amicus brief in favor of tenant Stacey Sverker.  On May 30, 2019 the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided this landlord-tenant appeal in Ms. Sverker’s favor.

 

                  The landlord had failed to repair Ms. Sverker’s front door and window, neither of which could be securely locked.  One of Ms. Sverker’s fellow tenants repeatedly engaged in disorderly and offensive conduct.  When Ms. Sverker met with her landlord to ask that he address these very serious safety concerns, the landlord responded by giving her an eviction notice. 

 

                Over the course of two hearings, the trial court found that the landlord had willfully violated the Ms. Sverker’s right to quiet enjoyment of the tenancy by failing to address the neighbor’s conduct and by issuing a retaliatory eviction notice.   But the court refused to award her any damages, attorneys’ fees, or costs.

 

                NHLA argued that once the trial court made a finding of willful violation of the tenant’s rights, under RSA 540-A of our State’s landlord-tenant laws it was required to award the tenant statutory damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.  Otherwise, landlords would have possible incentive to resort to non-judicial “self-help” remedies in hope that their violations of tenant rights would be cost-free to them.

 

                The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Sverker (represented pro bono by the McLane firm) and with NHLA: “a landlord who willfully violates a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment is liable to the tenant for at least $1000 in statutory damages, as well as costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.”  


You can read the full opinion here.