Cable TV not protected utility in NH House bill

By Norma Love
Associated Press / January 20, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire landlords should be allowed to cut off the cable television services they provide to tenants without being sued, a lawmaker told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

State Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, said her bill would exempt cable television from enjoying protections from shut-off the law now provides for necessities such as heat, water and lights.

The bill was in response to a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling that sided with a tenant whose landlord cut off his cable service while trying to evict him for not paying his rent. The landlord argued the apartment was receiving the service through an illegal connection.

In ruling against the landlord, the court said cable television is a protected utility service under state law and can't be shut off during landlord-tenant disputes. The court said many people access essential telephone service, the Internet, news information and entertainment by cable.

The bill would let the landlord cut off television service if the landlord was paying for it.

Sarah Mattson of New Hampshire Legal Assistance did not object to exempting television service. She said the state enacted the protections 30 years ago to stop landlords from cutting off telephone service, heat, lights and other necessities to force tenants out rather than use normal eviction procedures.

Mattson said the committee should make it clear that cable telephone service is not exempt so landlords don't disconnect a cable connection only to find themselves in violation of the law.

McGuire and several committee members said tenants, not landlords, typically paid for those types of services.

"I don't know any case where landlords would provide cable, telephone and Internet," said McGuire.

The Judiciary Committee began working on an amendment to clarify that only cable television provided by the landlord would be exempt. Committee members also wanted to be sure existing protections for telephone service remain in effect.