Voters in Winooski confront a ballot question on Town Meeting Day to grant the Winooski City Council the power to stop landlords from evicting tenants without providing just cause.

At a public forum Thursday, Winooski renter Samuel Kernan said he believes anyone renting in the city who does what they pledge to do — pay rent and abide by their lease terms — should be allowed to stay in their rental unit as long as they wish.

“It’s not a solution to Vermont’s entire housing crisis,” he said. “However, it is one important fundamental right that pretty much all homeowners already enjoy, and we should extend it to the tenants in our community as well.”

Some of the verbiage in the charter change worries Winooski landlord Brian Sweeney, especially a provision limiting “unreasonable rent increases.”

“I don’t know what that is,” Sweeney said. “I charge $1400 for a three-bedroom apartment, two off-street parking spots, washer and dryer, dishwasher. It’s clean, affordable. There’s a yard. I allow pets.

“An unreasonable increase would bring me to below market value still, so do I need to raise rent before this happens to stay ahead of this, so I can get moderate increases when the tenants in there have been in there for three years and I haven’t raised the rent a dollar?”

Sweeney is also concerned about a potential loss of flexibility when a lease is up.

“It’s an opportunity to encourage a tenant to stay by re-signing a lease or doing month to month,” he added. “It’s also an opportunity, when it’s not a good fit, to move on.”

David Weissberger and his wife have rented out a detached cottage on their property since 2018. He told city councilors that issues they experienced with their first tenant would have been much more difficult to address if just-cause eviction protections were in place.

“We felt uncomfortable with the way he interacted with our children,” he said. “We’re fairly sure he was smoking, which would have been a violation of the lease, but we didn’t have a way to prove it. So, we did wait until the end of the lease and asked him to leave. We would have had to try and evict him, probably, otherwise.”

The ballot question would require changing the city charter. As a result, Vermont lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott would also have to give their approval before sending the issue back to Winooski to actually enact the eviction protections through a city ordinance.

Burlington passed a similar just-cause measure two years ago. The legislature approved the Queen City’s charter change last spring. However, the governor vetoed it, and the Vermont House came up one vote short of overriding that veto.