Home News and Features ‘Just Cause’ Eviction Charter Change Hearing Held

‘Just Cause’ Eviction Charter Change Hearing Held

man in blue sweater sitting at large table talking to a group of people
Tom Proctor, left, housing justice organizer for Rights and Democracy, speaks to Montpelier resident Lisa Edson, far right, during a special meeting of the City Council Feb. 2 about the proposed “just cause” eviction ordinance to be voted on at Town Meeting. ORCA Media screenshot.
Montpelier voters will decide whether to codify under what circumstances a landlord can evict a tenant in Montpelier on Town Meeting Day, March 5. It is now legal to evict tenants without cause according to Housing Justice Organizer Tom Proctor of the Burlington nonprofit group Rights and Democracy while speaking at a special Montpelier City Council meeting Feb. 2. Currently, ‘no cause’ evictions have risen in Vermont from 18% in 2017 to 50% in 2021, according to Montpelier landlord Beth Burgess in a separate presentation. 

Proctor and Burgess each spoke at the second ‘Just Cause’ eviction charter change public hearing held by the Montpelier City Council at Montpelier High School. The council was not required to take action on the matter other than to hold public hearings prior to Town Meeting Day on March 5.

Proctor and Burgess took turns giving digital presentations on why enacting such a charter change would be a good idea. They asserted that in this tight housing market, landlords can too easily evict tenants without reason, and those displaced tenants would have trouble finding new housing. However, the ordinance’s detractors include Gov. Phil Scott, who says the proposal causes more harm than good because making evictions too difficult could lead to landlords refusing to rent to vulnerable populations, according to an article by Elizabeth Murray in the Burlington Free Press. Scott further claimed it would infringe on property owner’s rights and could lead to perpetual tenancy.

In sticking with his convictions, Gov. Scott vetoed a ‘Just Cause’ eviction charter change approved by Burlington voters in 2021 that passed through the Legislature. After that happened in May 2022, the Vermont House of Representatives failed to override the veto by one vote. Municipal charter changes must be approved by voters at their local towns, then by the full legislature and the governor before becoming law.

Proctor said he also helped get similar “just cause” eviction ordinance requests on the ballots in Winooski, Essex, and Brattleboro in 2023. Voters approved the ballot items in Winooski and Essex, but not in Brattleboro. 

Montpelier’s charter change is included as item 14 on the city’s Town Meeting Day ballot. It appears as a result of citizens presenting a petition with the required number of signatures to trigger a vote for a ‘just cause’ charter change, according to the agenda cover sheet for the Feb. 1 council meeting. “The change would create a new section of the charter which would empower the city council to create an ordinance with charter-specified terms and conditions relating to landlords’ powers to evict residential tenants (as defined in Chapter 137, Title 9, of the Vermont Statutes Annotated).”

Causes defined as ‘just’ would include material breach of the written agreement (for example, if a tenant smokes in an area where it is written to be prohibited), violation of state statutes (such as being abusive to roommates or defacing property), and nonpayment of rent. Excluded from the rule would be if a property owner or immediate family member wants to occupy a duplex or triplex as his or her primary residence, if the landowner wants to stop renting an accessory dwelling on the property of a single family home, or if renovations must be made that would make the living space uninhabitable. 

Additionally, there would be language to prevent landlords from hiking rent up beyond a reasonable level — that amount to be determined by a city council, according to Proctor. This would “prevent landlords from raising the rent to the point where it would cause eviction,” Proctor said. The ordinance would also include provisions that mitigate potential negative impacts on tenants and property owners relative to adequate notice and reasonable relocation expenses (pertaining to no-fault evictions). “What this charter change would do is protect good tenants from bad landlords,” Proctor said. “We need to provide safe and secure housing for everyone in Vermont.”

A couple of members of the public weighed in. Daphne Kinney-Landis of State Street said she supports the ballot measure because a tenant would be able to voice concerns about the apartment — such as heating not working — without fear of eviction. But Lisa Edson wondered what is the point of having a lease, then, if it comes to an end and you can’t make changes? Proctor explained that the lease would be offered to a tenant in good standing as a right to first refusal if the landlord were to continue renting out the space.

City residents can decide with their votes on Town Meeting Day at Montpelier City Hall.