Written By: Dana K. Smith, Esq.
If you’re a tenant, what do you do when you’re having serious concerns about your apartment such as the heat not reaching a certain level? Sure, you could try contacting the landlord or the property management company to address your issue. But what if they don’t respond? Or what if they don’t repair it correctly? How about the landlord himself is the reason the heat in the building is so low? What rights do you have as a tenant? What can you do fix the problem?
Alternatively, what if you’re the landlord? Let’s say you need to access the property for an emergency such as flooding in the basement? What if the tenants changed the locks and have refused you access to the property? How do you get in? What steps are you able to take to address these issues?
Fortunately for New Hampshire residents, whether you are a landlord or a tenant, there are solutions available to you in the district court system. The solution is a Petition Under RSA 540-A:4 (or more commonly called a “540-A Claim”). With a 540-A claim, parties can aver to the Court that the opposing party is failing to fulfill their obligations. This works for both landlords and tenants.
For example, in addition to claims for heat, tenants can make claims that the landlord has locked them out of their apartment without permission, seized their belongings without the right to do so, and that the landlord is entering their apartment without consent. On the other hand, for landlords, they can claim such issues as the tenant refuses to allow the landlord to make repairs, to comply with instructions for remediation of bugs or rodents, or that the tenant is willfully damaging their property.
These are just some of the potential claims a person can make on a 540-A claim. For a full review of all potential claims a person could make against a landlord or tenant, copies of the petition are available both online and at the Courthouse. Additionally, New Hampshire RSA 540-A lists the types of acts that are prohibited by tenants and landlords. Many resources are available to you.
To file a 540-A claim, a landlord or tenant should to the district court for the town or city where the property is located and file the petition with the clerk’s office. For towns that do not have a district court, you should file the claim in whatever court serves your area. Additionally, the landlord may file 540-A claims at the district court in the town they reside. There is no filing fee to submit the petition.
Upon filing a 540-A claim (and depending on the relief you are seeking), the Court may make temporary orders requiring the landlord or tenant to act immediately. These temporary orders stay in effect for a short time until a more formal hearing can be conducted in the Court at a later date. This type of relief is necessary in cases there is a need for an immediate order such as where a person may be without heat during the winter or if there is an emergency at the property.
In addition to the temporary orders, the Court will also schedule the matter for a more permanent final hearing. At the final hearing, the judge will hear all evidence the parties present and make a final decision based on that evidence. Any final orders will stay in place following the pendency of the hearing and will regulate the behavior of the landlord or tenant going forward. Additionally, the final orders also may provide potential awards. These awards include such things as attorney’s fees for the prevailing party, penalties for the failure of one party to follow the court’s temporary orders, and damages for any property that may have been destroyed by the other party.
Thus, if you’re a landlord or tenant, make sure you use all the tools available under RSA 540-A to remedy any potential issues you may have. If you feel the other party isn’t complying with their obligations as a landlord or tenant, don’t hesitate to contact this office about potentially filing a Petition Under RSA 540-A:4. We would be happy to assist you in getting the relief you need.