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Landlords Must Keep Accurate Reliable Books
In another victory for tenants throughout New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that a tenant may beat an eviction if the landlord cannot prove the exact amount of rent the tenant owes. In Buatti v. Prentice, decided in June 2011, the court held that a landlord bears the burden of proving “strict compliance” with the law, which means that before a tenant can be evicted for not paying rent, a landlord must prove to the court the actual amount of back rent due. The landlord in Buatti v. Prentice could not prove the exact rent amount owed, and the case was decided in the tenant’s favor.
The reasoning behind the court’s decision is that a tenant has a right to a “reasonable opportunity to pay” rent that is owed. If the landlord cannot prove the exact amount of money the tenant owes, the landlord could demand more from the tenant than the actual arrearage, which would infringe on the tenant’s right to pay.
The lesson for landlords here is, make sure you keep accurate, reliable bookkeeping records so that if you ever find yourself in front of a judge asking for an eviction, you will have the paperwork to support your case. The Buatti v. Prentice case can be found at 162 N.H. 228 (2011) or on the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s website under Slip Opinions, June 2011.
Philip L. Pettis is a partner with the law firm of Boynton, Waldron, Doleac, Woodman & Scott, P.A. in Portsmouth, N.H. Phil has been practicing law for 14 years, and he has successfully represented landlords and tenants in eviction actions and other disputes. He also handles a variety of other types of cases.