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House bill on changes to help renters OK’d

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state House late Thursday passed a bill that would prohibit landlords from terminating rental agreements with tenants for failure to pay rent during a public health emergency.

The property owner also couldn't refuse to renew the agreement if it expired during the emergency, or for 30 days after.

The legislation, House Bill 111, won approval 42-25 and now heads to the Senate with just over two weeks left in the session.

The state Supreme Court last year suspended evictions due to nonpayment of rent during the COVID-19 health emergency.

But Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe said broader, longer-term protections are necessary to ensure New Mexicans “can keep a safe and stable home” during a declared emergency or disaster. The restriction on terminating an agreement for 30 days after the expiration of an emergency, she said, would give landlords and tenants time to renegotiate or make other arrangements.

“We are worried about the cliff effect of evictions and worried folks may not have a place to go,” Romero said.

The proposal also makes broader changes to state housing laws, even outside an emergency. It would, for example, give tenants 11 days to pay after a notice that they were behind on their rent, rather than three days.

Opponents said the proposal was far too restrictive. Property owners themselves might face a financial crunch if a tenant fails to pay rent, they said.

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, said landlords are already providing flexibility on their own. It's better, he said, to let property owners and tenants find a solution that works for their situation rather than impose new regulations.

“There's lot of goodwill going on” between owners and renters, Baldonado said. “You work with people because that's good business.”

The proposed prohibition on terminating an agreement during a health emergency includes some exceptions, such as for property owners who need to take possession to make it their own or a family member's primary residence.

The bill is co-sponsored by Romero and Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces.

It passed along party lines with Democrats in support. Republicans and one independent voted against the bill.

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