Winooski landlords, tenants butt heads over ‘just cause’ eviction charter change

by Catherine Bass, Community News Service

Winooski landlords were up in arms at the Jan. 26 public hearing on the proposed just-cause eviction charter change because the measure would prevent them from getting rid of tenants based only on the fact that their lease is up.

The proposed charter change deals with “just-cause eviction,” which would require landlords to give Winooski residential tenants a reason for eviction.

As acceptable reasons to evict someone, the proposal would include breach of rental agreement, violating state statutes about obligations in rental agreements, not paying rent and failure to accept written, reasonable, good-faith renewal terms.

Voters will decide on Town Meeting Day whether to send the charter change to the Vermont Legislature.

Brian Sweeney, a Winooski landlord, told attendees that “the formal process of eviction … honestly is daunting, confusing, expensive.”

“I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard horror stories from friends and relatives who’ve had to evict people before — and a lot of times what’s easier is to wait,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said renters sometimes prefer to wait too, rather than to go through the formal process. But renters at the meeting disagreed.

“It may be easier not to renew, but I don’t think that convenience is more important than basic protections for renters being displaced,” said Meghan Tedder, a longtime renter in Chittenden County, who described experiencing first-hand unreasonable rent spikes the new ordinance would protect against.

“Someone came in, bought my building and over doubled my rent,” Tedder said. “There was no way my income and my budget were going to be able to just take that on. And he could do that because there weren’t any protections.”

Another Winooski renter mentioned their landlord wanting to raise rent by 70% — a claim that drew disbelief from two landlords who attended the meeting virtually and did not provide their full names.

“Maybe [the renters who spoke] could share the landlord information to talk about it or report it because 70% seems extreme,” one of the landlords, who identified themselves as Tenzin, said.

But Mayor Kristine Lott said in the hearing that there is no way to report rent spikes or prevent them from happening for Winooski residential tenants.

Even if there were ways to report rent spikes, some renters in attendance said they’d feel apprehensive about sharing information.

“It is so much harder as a renter to talk about your experience and feel like you won’t be retaliated against,” said Andi Blanchet, another Winooski residential tenant. “[Speaking out] is riskier.”

Multiple renters at the meeting also mentioned that no-cause evictions disrupt the community dynamic and alienate people from participating in local government because of their uncertain resident status.

Still at least 5% of Winooski voters have voted to push the ordinance forward — the legally required percentage to bring the matter to this point — said Lott, the mayor. That’s 271 people, she said.

Categories: Housing