Burlington's Just Cause Eviction Measure Gets Preliminary Approval in Senate | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington's Just Cause Eviction Measure Gets Preliminary Approval in Senate

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Published April 7, 2022 at 4:16 p.m.


KIM SCAFURO
  • Kim Scafuro
The Vermont Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a Burlington charter change that would ban no-cause evictions in the Queen City.

The chamber approved the bill, H.708, by a voice vote. The legislation will have one final vote in the Senate on Friday before going back to the House for lawmakers to consider a tweak to the language.

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden), who reported the bill, said lawmakers heard compelling testimony from a renter whose lease was terminated without cause. The situation has left the tenant searching for an apartment when vacancy rates are at all-time lows.



“Without any form of due process in losing her home, she has no right to defend herself against an eviction,” Ram Hinsdale said of the renter, noting that the bill “will help someone avoid the hardships she's currently facing.”
Vermont law allows landlords to evict renters by not renewing their leases, but the bill would ban the practice in Burlington. Landlords would instead have to provide a “just cause” for displacing tenants, such as nonpayment of rent or breaking provisions of the lease. The specifics would be spelled out in a new city ordinance.

Burlington voters approved the measure in March 2021 by a wide margin, though the lead-up to the vote generated plenty of controversy. Landlords argued that the ordinance would impinge on their property rights, and proponents countered that it would level the playing field in Burlington, where nearly two-thirds of residents rent.

Several types of properties would be exempt from the ordinance, including owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes. And landlords could still evict a tenant if they had to make substantial repairs to the unit, or if the tenant was involved in criminal behavior at the property, the bill says.

Ram Hinsdale said landlord advocates told the Senate Government Operations Committee they want to be able evict tenants who are disrespectful to maintenance workers or other tenants.

“A majority of the committee found that kind of standard to be too subjective to overcome the will of Burlington voters to determine their own community’s housing policies,” Ram Hinsdale said. “Such subjectivity may also be why women and people of color are more likely to be evicted.”
The bill passed out of the committee on a 4-1 vote, with a slight change from the version passed by the House last month. The House version said landlords could continue using no-cause evictions for the first year of the tenants’ lease, allowing for a “one-year probational period” before the just cause ordinance would go into effect. The Senate, however, suggested that the ordinance should provide a “reasonable” probationary period instead.

The House will likely send the language to its Government Operations Committee for review. If there are disagreements, there could be several more steps before the bill could become law.