According to Vermont Legal Aid, 20% of Chittenden County eviction cases are filed without cause — without the tenant getting behind on rent, without damaging the property or without causing a safety risk or a nuisance to others. This is allowed under Vermont state law.
On Town Meeting Day next March, Burlington may have a ballot question seeking permission from lawmakers to work on an ordinance requiring just cause, which would likely be defined to include the above reasons and others. As currently proposed, the expiration of a tenant’s lease alone wouldn’t be counted as a valid cause.
Queen City property owners spoke with a City Council committee Wednesday night about the proposed language. “We feel that it’s an overreach to establish a bylaw or any sort of local control that would prevent us from just simply moving in another direction when that lease term is up,” property owner Peter Smier said.
Four states — California, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Oregon — require just cause for evictions. Some individual cities also have that requirement, including Seattle and Washington, D.C.
“In the jurisdictions where our kids have been that have this, if the landlord wants them to go for whatever reason it is — their toilet doesn’t function and they call the landlord and say ‘our toilet doesn’t function’, the landlord will say ‘yeah; gee, I have to get on that’ and the weeks will go by,” property owner Beth Davies Carpinello said. She was also concerned about a just-cause ordinance destroying any incentive to be a good landlord or a good tenant, as well as about the length of occupancy that would be required before just-cause protection would take effect.
City Councilor Sara Carpenter suggests setting the minimum length of occupancy at one year. She also noted that the areas where the protection already exist have created exemptions for quite a few properties, including “provisions that allow the owner to withdraw it from the rental market. Provisions where the owner or a family member intends to move in. Provisions where properties need substantial repair or renovation,” she said.
The City Council’s Community Development & Neighborhood Revitalization Committee will continue working on the draft language through the end of November, and it will likely be presented to the full council in December.
“I think that that list there (of exemptions) is still to be determined, I guess; it’s a suggested starting point,” Councilor Brian Pine said. “But I think it does speak to a number of the questions that were asked.”