Legislative roundup: Tenant protection bill passes New Mexico House on 42-25 vote
AZTEC — People who are unable to pay their rent during a declared emergency may soon have more protections from eviction.
The state House of Representatives passed a bill this week that would increase the rental protections during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bill 111 is sponsored by Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces. It also includes provisions not related to the pandemic such as extending the time permitted to pay unpaid rent, requiring longer time periods be given for nonpayment notices and prohibiting retaliation against a tenant who reports problems with owner-provided services or appliances.
It would also prevent people from being evicted for nonpayment during a declared emergency.
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It passed the House on a 42-25 vote on March 4.
San Juan County Republican legislators voted against it, including Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington. Meanwhile, Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, voted in favor of the bill.
“New Mexico was already facing a housing crisis, and COVID-19 unfortunately exacerbated the problem,” said Romero in a statement following the passage. “We have been meeting with advocates and New Mexicans from around the state since the pandemic began, and they’ve helped us craft this legislation to protect renters during times of crisis and modernize our overall housing statutes to protect the interests of both landlords and tenants in the long-term.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Several of the Republicans who spoke against it during the floor session on March 4 said the legislation places limits on what property owners can do with their private property. One example given is that it could put property owners in a situation where they couldn't sell their property if needed because the tenant won't leave and couldn't be evicted during a pandemic.
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Lane said there are good and needed updates in the bill, however he argued against the extension of time for tenants to remedy unpaid rent in a non-COVID situation. He said it would double what is currently practiced.
"I know that we are trying to help folks that hit hard times, but really all that we are doing in extending specifically the timeframe is that we're actually hurting the tenants across New Mexico that consistently make their payments on time," he said. "And the reason why I say that is if it takes me twice as long as a landlord, as an owner, to get a nonpaying tenant out of the unit, you've now significantly increased my risk as an owner."
He said that will lead to a lower supply of rental units, raising the cost of rent.
Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, is among the sponsors proposing a single database where environmental information can be accessed by members of the public as well as industry. This could be a map form that is easy to search.
Right now that information is available from different agencies, but is not accessible at a single location.
House Bill 51 passed the Senate Conservation Commission on a 6-2 vote on March 2. Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, cast the two dissenting votes.
Dairy Producers of New Mexico as well as Independent Petroleum Association expressed opposition to the bill during a committee meeting this week. The dairy industry is concerned that information submitted by producers could place them at risk of lawsuits or attacks by animal rights groups. Meanwhile the Independent Petroleum Association said it could lead to additional level of burden on operators that could disproportionately hurt small operators.
Meanwhile, Conservation Voters of New Mexico supports the bill and a representative of the nonprofit said it would increase transparency and does not include any information that is not already provided to state agencies.
Waived liquor license fees
One of the economic sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hospitality industry, including bars and restaurants.
A bill is now headed to the governor's desk that would waive liquor license fees for the coming year to help mitigate for the impact of the pandemic closures and reduced capacity.
Senate Bill 2 is sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, D-Cerillos, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales and Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo. It passed the House of Representatives on a unanimous vote on March 4.
Depending on the type of liquor license, these annual fees range from $25 to $3,000.
“We are hopefully entering the final stage of this pandemic, but the challenges faced by our restaurants, bars, and other hospitality businesses won’t disappear overnight,” McQueen said in a statement following the passage. “Senate Bill 2 gives these struggling small businesses at the core of New Mexico’s economy a break from this year’s state fees, so they can instead use those funds for rent, payroll, and other key investments to help keep their doors open.”
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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