Legislative Update May 7, 2024

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Local control, or anti-housing?

It is not often that NHAR and the NH Municipal Association (NHMA), which represents town governments, are on the same page when it comes to legislation designed to provide more housing in the state. 

However, both associations supported Senate Bill 538, which would have granted municipalities greater authority to increase housing stock through their zoning ordinances. After passing the Senate unanimously, the bill was rejected by the House of Representatives.

The bill would have done three things, all at the sole discretion of the municipality:

  • Enable a local tax credit option for owners of property that is converted from office, industrial, and commercial space to residential units. The credits have existed in RSA 79-E since 2006, just not for conversions.

  • Enable the local legislative body to enact zoning amendments.

  • Enable the planning board and the local governing body to consider an alternative parking solution that the applicant could propose to meet the parking demand created by new residential construction.

The expectation was that legislators who had previously argued that local control takes precedence over private property rights would embrace this NHMA-backed bill. After all, it expands a town’s ability to enact ordinances while broadening local control over zoning. Unfortunately, these same “pro-local control” legislators led the charge to defeat SB 538.

Advocates for local control have long argued that they are not anti-housing, even as they claim in hearings that housing brings crime, traffic, higher taxes and depletes resources. However, their vote against SB 538 seems to contradict their past arguments and suggests they are, in fact, motivated simply to stop new housing construction – and that local control principles have nothing to do with their votes.

Sprinkler exemption moving to four-family properties, but how?

House Bill 1065 would alter the existing state mandate regarding fire sprinklers on residential properties. Currently, RSA 153:5 indicates that the state cannot mandate fire suppression or sprinkler systems in detached one- or two-family dwelling units. HB 1065 would increase the exemption to include up to four-family dwelling units. 

A proposed amendment would prohibit a town from enacting a more restrictive ordinance to require three- or four-unit structures to be sprinkled. The change would save significant costs for many older homes which could be converted to three or four units.

The State Fire Marshal testified he supported the concept, as do New Hampshire Fire Chiefs. However, the Fire Marshal also indicated they would prefer that alterations to the fire code are sent through the Building Code Review Board as opposed to a standalone legislative bill. That Board has already approved an amendment, and is awaiting legislative approval, to the fire code which moves the sprinkler exemption to four-family.

The Senate Executive Departments and Administrative are currently reviewing the legislation. NHAR supports the bill.

DES says septic system records access getting easier, faster.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has announced a multiyear digitization project is in progress to help residents, businesses, and other organizations. When the project is complete, hundreds of thousands of records and plans will be available on demand, in just a few clicks, dating back to 1967. 

For all records, please check OneStop first. You will need the original owner at the time of installation. Please check with your local town office or search New Hampshire Deeds to obtain that information. You can also request septic records using the state’s online forms page and searching “archive” in the form finder.

Quote of the Week

“A recent study found that nearly 70 percent of city staff don’t live in Lebanon and can’t afford to live in Lebanon, which presents problems in and of itself.”

–Lebanon Deputy City Manager David Brooks, discussing the plan to build housing for city employees. Lebanon would contribute the land and money to construct the homes. (“Lebanon considers plan to build housing on city-owned property,” Valley News, Feb. 9, 2024)

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

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