New citizen struggles to stay in Concord apartment complex

  • Adam Hassan outside his the two bedroom condominium at Morning Star on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday evening, September 7, 2023. Earlier this month, he almost lost his two bedroom condominium and he wasn’t the only tenant either. The tenants across the hall moved out two days ago. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan with his daughter outside the two bedroom apartment at Morning Star Condominiums on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday. Earlier this month, he almost lost his two-bedroom condominium. The tenants across the hall moved out two days earlier. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan shows the unfinished door at the two bedroom condominium at Morning Star on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday evening, September 7, 2023. Earlier this month, he almost lost his two bedroom condominium and he wasn’t the only tenant either. The tenants across the hall moved out two days ago. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan outside his the two bedroom condominium at Morning Star on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday evening, September 7, 2023. Earlier this month, he almost lost his two bedroom condominium and he wasn’t the only tenant either. The tenants across the hall moved out two days ago. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan with his daughter, Amira, outside the two-bedroom condominium at Morning Star on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan gets a kiss from his daughter, Amira, in the kitchen of the two bedroom condominium at Morning Star on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday evening, September 7, 2023. Earlier this month, he almost lost his two bedroom condominium at Morning Star. And he wasn’t the only tenant either. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan outside his the two bedroom condominium at Morning Star on Loudon Road in Concord on Thursday evening, September 7, 2023. Earlier this month, he almost lost his two bedroom condominium and he wasn’t the only tenant either. The tenants across the hall moved out two days ago. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adam Hassan shows the broken fan and exposed ductwork at his condo off Loudon Road. Hassan discussed the challenges he and other New Americans have faced when confronted with eviction notices.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/9/2023 11:00:09 PM

Adam Hassan tucked a small American flag into the front pocket of his button down shirt and smiled for a photo. On Friday he became a U.S. citizen.

It was a day he’s worked toward for nearly a decade and one that’s hard to comprehend.

After leaving his native country of Sudan, he spent 10 years in Egypt before he was approved to come to the United States. In 2015, he arrived in Concord and moved into a two-bedroom apartment complex off of Loudon Road.

It’s not perfect. In fact, far from it. After a heater was removed, a hole was left in one wall. A broken fan and exposed ductwork hang from his kitchen ceiling. An unfinished front door is more than an eyesore.

But on the wall near the entrance, a wood panel hangs with green and yellow painted hands and footprints. It’s artwork from his three-year-old daughter – a reminder of how this space is all he’s known since settling down and where he calls home.

Earlier this month, though, he almost lost it. He wasn’t the only tenant in his complex either.

When Blue Door Living LLC, a statewide property management company took over Morning Side Condominiums on Aug. 1, eviction notices followed a week later.

In the past, when he fell behind on rent, he would talk to the old property manager who had an office on site. Together, they would craft payment plans for him to catch up on any back rent.

New management has forced Hassan to forge a relationship with a company that doesn’t have a location in Concord and holds no office hours at Morning Star.

While other renters in and around Concord may find themselves in similar predicaments, it’s often harder for New Americans to navigate a complex legal system, in an unfamiliar language – let alone garner an agreement to pay the overdue rent with a company he’s struggled to speak to a live person.

“It’s all refugees. What I am understanding is that nobody gives a damn about these people, to be honest. Nobody gives a damn,” he said. “The people are just going to collect the rent.”

An eviction notice

When Hassan gets a bill in the mail, he brings it to Overcomers Refugee Services, an organization that provides support to New Americans. Limited proficiency in English is a common barrier to deciphering these notices sent in the mail.

“The problem is that I don’t speak this language,” Hassan said.

So when he received an eviction notice on his door, Hassan brought it over to the agency’s offices off Airport Road.

At Overcomers, a case manager translated the notice for him. But given the nature of an eviction, taking time to understand the context of the pieces of paper, only pushes up against the limited time frame to address landlord-tenant disputes.

In New Hampshire, once the eviction process begins, it can move quickly through the court. By Aug. 5, Hassan had not paid his monthly rent. By Aug. 7, an eviction notice hung on his front door, along with six other neighbors. The four pages of paper explained that the landlord was asking them to vacate the property by Aug. 15 due to a nonpayment of rent.

Paying his $1,000-a month rent at Morning Star was an ongoing challenge, but Hassan always found a way to pay.

“I’ve never had a problem with rent. Ever,” he said.

He learned quickly that facing eviction is a costly process.

When he called to explain his circumstances and notify Blue Door when he’d have the money, no one answered the phone. Eventually, he drove to Manchester in hopes of speaking with someone in person, on his one day off between his part-time job and classes.

They told him to drop his cash off in an envelope with his name on it. He didn’t. He returned two weeks later to hand the payment off to someone in person.

For every day that passed on his overdue rent, fees and fines continued to build.

By Aug. 25, he paid off the past rent and put down another $1,000 toward September. But instead of covering the next month, most of that money went toward fees and fines.

Per Blue Door’s late policy, he’d incur an initial $50 late fee on Aug. 5, alongside a $5 fine for every day thereafter, which added up to $145.

The eviction notice filed against him also meant he owed a $125 filing fee, a cost set by the court. And the process states that tenants are also responsible for any other associated fees – like legal counsel, service costs and $15 liquidated damages.

It came out to a bill of $565 dollars, more than half his monthly rent.

Hassan works part-time for 30 hours a week at Standex Electronics in Concord, where he’s paid $16 an hour. The living wage for a single adult and child in Merrimack County is $34, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The other half of the week he takes classes at NHTI to get a degree.

Paying the rent is already difficult. Not to mention he now has an eviction on his rental history – a black mark for future applications.

Current two-bedroom listings on Blue Door’s website price a two-bedroom unit at $1,600 and $1,650.

With properties in Manchester, Pembroke, Rochester and Concord, Blue Door manages a state-wide portfolio. And with the median rent for a two-bedroom in the state at $1,764, the current rent Hassan pays is well below market prices.

It’s not the intention of Blue Door to displace current residents, according to Tori Averill, a property manager for the company. Yet raising the rent by virtually any amount is completely within the bounds of New Hampshire law.

Hassan said no one returned his three phone calls to discuss the rent and work with him on a payment plan. Now he’s paying the price.

“I wanted to pay it from day one. But I didn’t get them. How are you going pay?” he said.

Legal proceedings

Midday on Thursdays in Concord’s District Court, landlord-tenant cases occupy an upstairs courtroom. Sitting on the last wooden bench of Courtroom Three, Averill and Blue Door’s legal counsel reached an agreement with one of Hassan’s neighbors – instating a payment plan for past due rent to avoid eviction.

It’s commonly referred to as a “stay and pay” agreement. The tenant who owed both July and August rent would pay the property management company a weekly payment over the next three months. In a way, it’s a win-win for both parties. The landlord recovers the rent owed while the tenant remains at home.

But if there’s one missed payment or the expenses pile up on top of monthly rent and other utility bills, soon a tenant can find themselves padlocked out of their home, according to Steve McGilvary, a paralegal with 603 Legal Aid.

“The landlord usually has language on the agreement that says the tenant agrees to the immediate issuance of the writ of possession if the tenant defaults from any of these terms. And that’s exactly what the landlord can do. The tenant doesn’t get another chance for a new hearing. The landlord just goes to court, gets the writ of possession and the tenant is removed,” he said.

McGilvary often helps clients like Hassan through his work at 603 Legal Aid, which provides legal assistance to low-income people in New Hampshire. For 24 years, he’s worked on housing law.

For tenants facing eviction, especially in instances where there’s a language barrier, calling 603 Legal Aid can be a pivotal step. With their help, tenants can be represented in court, seek guidance on the process and potential outcomes and communicate through translation services. By law in New Hampshire, courts need to provide an interpreter free of charge, but parties need to request this service.

If Hassan had asked, he would have received language and legal support for his case. But like many, he wasn’t aware of the serves and planned to represent himself if his case had gone to court.

It’s something McGilvary sees time and time again.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of tenants throughout New Hampshire brought into court for eviction will be pro se. They will be unrepresented by themselves,” he said.

Offering solutions like a stay-and-pay agreement has become more common after pandemic rental assistance has expired, according to Blue Door. It’s one way to ensure someone can remain housed while they look for other support through local welfare offices.

“Our intention is never to kick someone out,” said Averill.

Few options elsewhere

When Hassan picked up the phone last week to dial into a landlord-tenant mediation session through the court, the call was canceled.

He’d taken the morning off from work to make sure he was available for the 12:30 p.m. phone call. But after he paid his past-due rent, his case was dismissed.

It’s a relief to remain in his condo, but he’s unsure how long his situation will last. Hassan watched as his neighbors across the hall moved out a few days ago.

For the other six tenants who were also facing eviction this month, three have paid off the rent owed. One has a payment plan going forward, and another has a court hearing next week. For a family that failed to appear in court, a writ of possession will be issued on their place come Sept. 14 – meaning the sheriff’s department will padlock the door and management will take back the property.

When Hassan first arrived in New Hampshire, Ascentria Care Alliance, a resettlement agency, helped him find a place and move into Morning Star. He has the receipts for rent paid since 2015.

He’s made a new life for himself here – starting a family while doing so.

It’s all he’s known. And with no family in New Hampshire, there’s little support if the day comes when he’ll have to move.

The decision is obvious to care for himself and his daughter – his next paychecks will go toward the fines to remain in his place. It’s the price he has to pay to cement the new roots he’s put down in this state, now as a new American citizen as well.

“I mean, it’s really difficult,” he said. “I’ve never moved.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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