Housing advocates say code enforcement needs an overhaul

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(Host) Low-income housing advocates are pushing for an overhaul of the system that assures that rental housing is liveable and safe.

They say the codes that govern health and fire safety are spread over too many agencies, and that they’re poorly enforced.

Maryellen Griffin is a staff attorney for Vermont legal Aid in St. Johnsbury.  She says the situation leaves many tenants in substandard, even dangerous housing – while landlords ignore violations.

(Griffin) “Fire Safety is through the Department of Public safety and the rental housing code is enforced through local town health officers. And that’s both inefficient and ineffective   The Department of Public Safety inspectors are basically building inspectors who do the fire safety inspections on top of their regular duties. And the town health officers are largely volunteers. We need one comprehensive system of code enforcement.

(Host) Griffin supports a bill currently before the Legislature that would do that. She’s also the lead attorney in a class action lawsuit that claims the state is not exercising its enforcement powers.

But Stuart Bennett of the Vermont Apartment Owners Association says the system does work.

(Bennett) All an occupant of a house has to do is get on the phone and call the Health Department,  the Department of Public Safety, Legal Aid. And immediately after that, the landlord is obligated to fix it.

(Host) Bennett says Vermont is already a tenant-friendly state.

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