Legislative Update January 24, 2023

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New faces to tackle lingering issues

Legislative Update: January 24

The new year has brought many new faces to the State House. About one-third of the members of the New Hampshire legislature are brand new; while the House of Representatives has the tightest partisan split in over 150 years, with Republicans holding 201 seats and Democrats 198 (one seat was tied last November and a new election will be held next month). 

While many of the faces at the State House are new, much of the legislation they have introduced has a déjà vu feel to it. NHAR’s Public Policy Committee reviews all legislation and determines the Association’s position based on whether the bill expands or limits private property rights as well as whether the bill might increase housing availability and affordability of housing in the state.

Here is a brief recap of some the bills heard this past week in Concord:

Bill would allow more units on lots with municipal water and sewage

House Bill 44 would require a town to allow the owner of any single-family lot in a residential zoning district served by municipal water and sewer to construct up to four residential dwelling units, as a matter of right. Importantly, the lot and yard standards, setbacks, parking requirements, and other municipal ordinances must be met by the owner. All relevant building code and fire code requirements would still apply. 

Last week, NHAR testified in favor of the bill. The original purpose of one-acre minimum lots was to ensure appropriate setbacks for septic and private wells on the property. Those minimum lot sizes are not relevant when the property is served by municipal water and sewer. HB 44 would still require construction approval from the town.

A similar bill passed the House Municipal and County Committee last year but was never given a final up or down vote on the House floor. 

Rent stabilization bill could make housing availability much worse

House Bill 95 enables municipalities to adopt local bylaws to mandate the period of notice required prior to a rent increase as well as the permissible amount of rent increases. The bill only applies to residential units. Towns would be authorized to put in rent control measures to limit property owners’ ability to generate additional revenue. NHAR testified in opposition to the bill last week.

Realtors certainly recognize the well-meaning motivation behind this legislation. Vacancy rates across the state are less than 1 percent and, like housing costs, rents have been rising rapidly. Throughout New Hampshire, many lower-income families and first-time buyers are effectively priced out of the housing market. 

However, House Bill 95 would likely make matters worse by constraining the housing supply even further. A patchwork of ever-changing local ordinances would not create a fairer housing market, but instead would reduce the quantity and quality of available housing, discourage new construction, increase rents for unprotected tenants, and create other challenges for both landlords and tenants.

The House Municipal and County Committee will likely take action on the bill next month.

Speedier land use appeals at the Superior Court?

House Bill 347 would create a land use review docket in the superior court which would have jurisdiction to hear appeals from decisions of local land use boards, including decisions of municipal planning boards, zoning boards, historic district commissions, and conservation commissions. The intent is to speed up such appeals while ensuring the judge has specific expertise in land use law. NHAR supports the bill.

The NH Judicial System testified in favor, indicating that the newly established Housing Appeal Board has not resulted in fewer land use cases coming before the Superior Court. The HAB has jurisdiction over housing development issues but not commercial development. This new land use review docket would have jurisdiction over both residential and commercial appeals.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take action on the bill next month.

NHAR’s legislative chart can be found here.

For more information, contact New Hampshire Realtors CEO Bob Quinn: bob@nhar.com.

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