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Vermont Senate considers landlord registry, housing incentives

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 4:10 PM EDT
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SWANTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In the midst of their veto session, the Vermont Senate has picked up some unfinished business on a sweeping housing bill. Supporters say the measure would create a statewide registry for apartments and Airbnbs in an effort to create safer and more consistent housing options for those in need. But critics have said it creates an expensive new government program and adds more bureaucracy.

Tyler Stanislas rents out 80 units in St. Albans and Swanton. Under the proposed bill, he and other landlords would have to register into a statewide database. “In St. Albans, we already kind of deal with that. The fire marshall comes through and does checks every three years,” Stanislas said.

But supporters say the bill would create a registry on the statewide level, creating six new positions in state government to conduct rental housing safety checks. In most towns, that’s currently up to volunteers. “If you think of most of our towns are under 5,000 people. They don’t have the staff to do this,” said Sarah Carpenter, chair of the Vermont Rental Housing Advisory Board.

And for the first time nationally, short-term rentals including Airbnbs would be included too. Business groups say collecting data on short-term rentals will help the state understand how large the market is.

“Many of them want to be good providers. Accommodations of overnight but licensed lodging accommodations have a 30-page document of regulations that they have to go through, so this is really a step forward in evening the playing field and creating equity in the industry,” said Amy Spear with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

The Vermont Short Term Rental Alliance supports the measure but also wants to be at the table in how the registry is designed and used. “The VTSTRA supports short-term rentals being included in the rental housing registry proposed in S.79,” said Executive Director Julie Marks. “But we would like to participate in how the registry is designed and implemented moving forward because we are concerned about how our “type of rental” will be defined and categorized. This registry has a lot of potentials to collect important information about Vermont’s housing stock and how owners are choosing to use their properties over time.”

The new positions in government would be funded by a $35 fee for landlords. Stanislas says he’s not opposed to the idea of having to sign up for a rental registry, but he says if he has to pay $35 for each of his rental units, that’s a cost that will fall on his tenants.

Republicans largely oppose the measure, saying it creates $850,000 in new costs and more bureaucracy. Governor Phil Scott says he also has concerns. “It creates more expense on the state level -- millions of dollars -- and I don’t think we’ve contemplated how much that will in effect cost us. I think this is the wrong time to do this,” Scott said.

The bill also seeks to bolster housing stock by creating a $5 million grant program to give landlords like Stanislas $30,000 in renovation incentives and up to $50,000 in no-interest loans for first-time homebuyers.

Stanislas says having those funds will help him fix up units, but he also wonders if the state should create a registry for tenants too.

The House approved the bill during the regular session and the Senate is slated to vote on it Thursday.

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