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What’s next for Burlington renters following ‘just cause’ eviction veto?

Published: May. 4, 2022 at 6:31 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - What’s next for Burlington renters after Governor Phil Scott’s veto of a charter change to ensure just cause evictions? The measure was passed by Burlington voters with nearly a 63% majority on Town Meeting Day last year. It cleared the Legislature this session but ran into a roadblock this week at the governor’s office.

The rental market in Burlington is tight, with around a one-percent vacancy rate. Many are looking for apartments and coming up empty-handed. But what happens when landlords and property owners want to move on from a tenant?

“There are three general reasons why a landlord can terminate a tenancy. One, is for a non-payment of rent; Two, is for a material breach of the lease; Or three, In Vermont, a landlord may terminate a tenancy for no cause,” said Jill Rudge, a Burlington lawyer.

It’s the no-cause eviction the charter change was trying to eliminate. If the governor’s veto is overridden, landlords seeking to evict tenants would have to prove a breach of the lease, nonpayment of rent, or that tenants were otherwise violating laws.

“People can continue to make money from an investment property. It just means tenants will be a lot more protected when it comes to unjust evictions,” said Tom Proctor with the group Rights & Democracy.

Four states currently have just cause evictions including New Hampshire. Advocates for the charter change say no cause evictions have skyrocketed and are used to force tenants to live in substandard housing. Governor Scott in his veto message to lawmakers said he is worried the measure will cause perpetual tenancy and cause landlords to be hesitant to rent out properties to individuals who are perceived as greater risks. But advocates counter that it’s the more vulnerable that will benefit most from this protection.

“Those tenants that do everything that they’re supposed to do. They pay their rent on time, they’re courteous to their neighbors, they are part of their community, they are just living in their homes at the end of the day -- those people will be protected from unjust evictions,” Proctor said.

Some landlords agree with the governor’s position. Emilie Crawford with BTV Property Management helps manage 300 units. She says she at times takes chances on a tenant who might not meet strict income requirements or have as many references, but that could change if just cause is enacted. “I would have to do a cause eviction, which could be costly. Also, it usually takes other tenants to make complaints. They don’t want anyone to know who made the complaint because they worry about retaliation, so it’s going to take away my tendency to be lenient,” she said.

She says that landlords don’t terminate the leases of good tenants. “The folks who have less income, service sector jobs, are probably going to find it that much more difficult to land an apartment,’ added Crawford.

The override vote in the House is scheduled for Friday.

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