(Host) A bill that’s working its way through the Legislature would make it easier for landlords to evict problem tenants.
Backers of the legislation say the eviction process is cumbersome and is tilted in the tenant’s favor.
But opponents argue that the bill weakens legal protections.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) The legislation passed the Senate unanimously and is now in the House. Backers say that Vermont laws – and Vermont courts – have made it difficult to get rid of tenants who destroy property or refuse to pay rent.
Rutland Senator Bill Carris is a lead sponsor. He testified in favor of the bill before a House committee.
(Carris) "We heard from a lot of lawyers that go through the process of evicting tenants. It’s a nightmare of a system. We heard from some apartment owners that in fact try and do it themselves, it’s an even bigger nightmare."
(Dillon) The legislation eases the eviction process in a number of ways. If it becomes law, landlords would no longer have to prove that their tenants got eviction notices. They would just have to send the notice through certified mail.
The bill shortens the time period for landlords to throw out tenants based on their alleged illegal activity, such as drug dealing.
It also says landlords can continue with evictions even after they accept partial payment for rent.
Burlington Republican Kurt Wright said the legislation is needed.
(Wright) "There’s a lot of people who have felt that we need a little bit better balance between the rights of the tenants, which we obviously have to protect, and the rights of the landlords."
(Dillon) But Christopher Curtis, a lawyer with Vermont Legal Aid, said the current system is balanced and works well for both sides.
(Curtis) "The proposed changes that are offered are bad for working families, senior, the developmentally disabled. And really, they tilt the playing field dramatically in favor of landlords at a time when our state, and housing costs in our state, are rising dramatically."
(Dillon) Curtis said statistics from court show that landlords win most of the time. For example, in Chittenden Superior Court landlords prevailed in 98% of the court’s final judgments.
(Curtis) "Far from being overly burdensome for landlords, the system is working for landlords in these cases."
(Dillon) But another lawyer with extensive experience in eviction law disagreed. Nadine Scibek represents public housing providers. She says it takes a minimum of three months to evict someone, even for tenants who break the law.
(Scibek) "I’ve had cases where one tenant has pushed another tenant down the stairs. I’ve had assaults. And I’ve had to tell the victim: I’m going as fast as I can. I’m really trying."
(Dillon) The House will continue to take testimony on the bill this week. Legal Aid is asking that the Legislature delay action, and instead have a summer study committee look at the issue.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.