City of Burlington Pays $30,000 to Settle Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit | Off Message

City of Burlington Pays $30,000 to Settle Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit


Burlington City Hall
  • Burlington City Hall
The City of Burlington has agreed to change its eviction laws and offer payment to settle a lawsuit with a man evicted for frequently calling the police.

Joseph Montagno will receive $30,000 as part of the agreement between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, which represented Montagno after he was evicted from his Church Street apartment in 2016.

Because of the court's decision, "vulnerable people in Burlington will no longer lose their housing simply because they need police assistance," ACLU staff attorney Jay Diaz said in a statement Tuesday.

Burlington officials started tracking Montagno's calls to police in 2015 and labeled him a "frequent caller" and a "public nuisance." Montagno argued that he had been threatened and his apartment had been vandalized. City authorities allegedly pressured the apartment owner to evict Montagno by threatening to remove his certificate of occupancy.

The city unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the lawsuit. Finally, on October 31, the city and the ACLU settled. Diaz said the two parties have been discussing details of the agreement since then; the case was formally dismissed on Monday.

Under the settlement, the city will not encourage landlords to evict their tenants except "as a last resort." The city also agreed to notify tenants if it plans to revoke a landlord's certificate of occupancy.

"The purpose of the notice will be to inform the affected tenants of the nature of the issues so the tenants may understand and address the issues," the settlement reads.

Tenants will also have a chance to challenge the suspension of the certificate, and will have more time to respond to the city's allegations, according to the settlement.

The changes will be submitted to the city council's ordinance committee for formal adoption by February 1.

The changes will "increase the rights of every single tenant and resident in Burlington because they now have the right to know about what's going on with their housing," Diaz said in an interview with Seven Days.

The successful collaboration between city attorneys and the ACLU indicates that Burlington is moving in "a much more productive and effective direction" that "doesn't make homelessness more likely," Diaz added.

Montagno also lauded the results.

"I’m so glad [the ACLU is] out there making sure that situations like mine are not swept under the rug, and supporting people who could use a hand," he said in the release. "Burlington is my home and I care about it. I’m glad I could play a part in making it a little better.”