On Just Cause Eviction: 2/22/2022

On the Just Cause Eviction charter change, to soon be reviewed in the House Committee on Government Operations

Dear friends,

Last year the voters in Burlington overwhelmingly supported changing our charter to add protections for tenants to stop evictions for no cause. The legislature is reviewing the charter change and there is a proposal in the committee reviewing it (House Gov Ops) which, in my opinion, will greatly weaken the protections.

I've been told by supportive legislators that they need people to write and call into the committee to oppose the proposal. I did early this morning and I'm asking you to help Burlington's tenants by contacting the committee too. My email to committee members is written below, along with their email addresses and a link to the bill with the amendments highlighted in yellow. I focused on the two most problematic amendments but you might want to comment on others as well.

The work for justice is hard but together we can make important changes. Just cause eviction is one of those changes. I hope I can count on you to stand with me and Burlington's tenants in protecting this hard fought and won reform. It will make a difference.


Download the bill (in PDF format)

Below is my letter to the committee:

"Dear Vt. House Gov Ops Committee,
I’m writing to support your approval of Burlington’s just cause eviction charter change and ask that you remove the amendment on page 2, line 18 (exemption for people owning 4 or fewer rental units) because it creates a giant loophole that will nullify the entire charter change.

I’ve lived in Burlington since 1971. I was a tenant for a long time and am now a homeowner. For about 11 years, My wife and I were landlords, renting out an apartment in the house we lived in with our 2 children. Throughout this time, Burlington has had a housing crisis in which a tight market has been exploited by landlords.  Exorbitant rents, poorly maintained-underinvested in apartments, insecurity caused by a lack of options, these were the results.

For much of the time, I worked for fairness and equity between tenants and landlords, including as an attorney for the City to improve our housing code and hold landlords who fail to keep up their units accountable and as a pro bono attorney in eviction cases, representing tenants without a lawyer when their landlords are represented by lawyers. 

Based on these experiences, I believe the just cause charter change provides a basic measure of equity to Burlington’s tenants by requiring a landlord who wants to evict a tenant to have a good reason, and if necessary be able to prove it in court, just like they would have to if they were to allege that the tenant owed back rent or broke the lease.  It is not a cure all because there is no single solution to the housing crisis but it is important.  

There is a reason why the City’s affordable housing landlords (i.e., Champlain Housing Trust) all require just cause to evict a tenant: housing is a basic human right and should not be taken away without a good reason. If we’ve learned nothing from COVID we should have learned this.

The amendment on page 2, line 18 will nullify the effect of the rest of the bill because the definition of “person” includes corporations and LLCs and other entities.  This means that all a “person” has to do to avoid this requirement is create an LLC to purchase the building. This regularly happens now and I believe it is an increasing occurrence as the housing market heats up, especially when there is so much out of state money buying up properties. Even if you could somehow fix this problem it would still be a bad amendment because you would be depriving the affected tenants of the right to housing security. I urge you to reject this amendment.

I also believe that the amendment on page 3 limiting compensatory expenses to one year is inadequate to protect tenants from violations and the negative effects of displacement. It costs a lot to move, much more than the cost of a month’s rent.

Thank you for considering this. The people of Burlington really need this protection.

Gene Bergman, St. Louis St., Burlington