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Burlington committee considers remedy to prevent rental evictions

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 12:35 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2020 at 11:04 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington is looking at changing the law to keep landlords from kicking tenants out of their rentals.

The Charter Change Committee met on Wednesday night to discuss a “just cause eviction" proposal that seeks to better define in the city’s charter under what circumstances a landlord can and cannot evict a renter.

Although evictions and waivers for rentals have been a hot topic because of COVID, this issue has been in the works since October 2019 when the council adopted various housing policy reforms.

Under the proposed change, landlords must prove they have just cause to evict a renter. That means a landlord could only evict if the renter were in breach of a written rental agreement, in violation of state statutes or if they failed to pay rent. Landlords cannot evict for personal disagreements or lease expirations.

The ordinance also looks to set a maximum rent increase limit. Burlington landlords like Mark Porter say they don’t think that’s fair.

“That is such a dangerous thing. This is probably the most powerful thing that you have in this document saying that, ‘We’re going to tell you how much you can raise rents.’ And I don’t know why that’s there,” said Porter.

Some landlords say they won’t be able to invest in their properties if they can’t raise the rent to pay for repairs and maintain their buildings.

“My building’s going to go to hell. Every building in Burlington is going to go to hell,” said Donald Silsh. “The whole housing stock is going to be degraded because there’s no point in putting money in a building if you can’t control it.”

However, tenants see it differently. They see this proposed ordinance as an extra layer of protection from unjust eviction and discrimination.

“We really do need to make sure that it gets passed and put on the March ballot because people need to be able to vote to protect themselves,” said one woman.

“All we’re asking for is for real reasons -- decent reasons -- why people get evicted,” said Tom Proctor. “Letting tenants have peace of mind that they won’t get turned out of their homes for no reason whatsoever.”

A landlord attorney in Burlington also spoke during public comment. She advocated for landlords' rights to evict, saying it’s a way for them to protect tenants living nearby who may be affected or disturbed by their neighbors. She urged the committee to do more research, and they agreed to reconvene next Wednesday to revisit the item.

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