How would a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance Work?

A landlord could only evict a tenant for a good reason. These good reasons (which we call just causes) include non-payment of rent; breach of a written lease; breaking state or municipal law; not signing a new lease that has reasonable changes.

Do we really need Just Cause?

Yes! Tenants who pay their rent on time, obey the terms of their lease, take care of their apartments can be evicted. This happens in Burlington all of the time. There have been hundreds of ‘no cause’ evictions filed in Chittenden County over the last 5 years, accounting for 20% of all evictions. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Tenants, looking to avoid a blemish on their record in an already tight housing market, will often leave their homes when just threatened with eviction. For an exhaustive discussion about the personal and societal costs of evictions, go to the Princeton University Eviction Lab at https://evictionlab.org/

Why would a landlord evict someone without a just cause?

Sometimes a new landlord buys an occupied building and decides to start with a clean slate. Sometimes a tenant is evicted for complaining about needed repairs. Sometimes tenants are evicted because of discrimination. A recent report by Vermont Legal Aid shows how no cause evictions disproportionately affects people of color, housing voucher holders, people with disabilities, and people with a change in family status such as pregnancy or marriage. 

Can you still evict tenants under Just Cause?

Yes! Tenants can still be evicted for just causes such a failure to pay rent, damaging the property, disturbing their neighbours, or refusing to resign a new lease.

Why should homeowners care whether tenants are protected against unjust evictions?

Tenants will be able to stay in their home for many years making neighborhoods more stable with households who are not forced to move again and again and properties that are better maintained. This Just Cause ordinance also supports owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes, which are, again, better maintained.

If tenants can still be evicted for not paying rent, what prevents landlords from simply raising rents to force tenants out?

This ballot question allows landlords to raise their rents but forbid landlords to use rent increases as a weapon for the eviction of tenants.

Isn’t this just a backdoor way to enacting Rent Control?

No, Just Cause Eviction policies are only invoked in cases where an owner would seek to evict a tenant or to terminate a rental agreement. Rent increases are still allowed . However, since an egregious rent increase would have the same effect as eviction for many tenants, the ordinance will seek to prevent rent increases that seem to be targeted at evicting a tenant.

Has this policy been adopted in other places?

Yes, just cause eviction policies have been adopted in four states (California, New Jersey, Oregon, New Hampshire, and in a number of cities including Seattle and Washington D.C and is being considered in Boston, Chicago and New York. Over 3.25 million privately owned apartments that received federal housing tax credits operate under this provision. Though the measures are not considered a “silver bullet” to solving the housing instability of renters, such policies are part of state and local governments’ efforts to provide housing stability for renters in expensive housing markets with very low rental vacancy rates similar to Burlington.

Do any Burlington tenants have this type of protection now?

Yes, over 2,000 Burlington tenants living in the following types of rental housing currently enjoy the protection afforded by Just Cause Eviction policies:

  • All conventional public housing units (i.e. BHA)
  • All privately owned rental units receiving “project-based” rental assistance (i.e. Northgate Apartments)
  • All privately owned rental units created through the federal low-income housing tax credit program (i.e. Champlain Housing Trust, Cathedral Square, eligible for-profit housing)

Would this cover all properties? Are there exemptions?

While all units will need to comply with Just Cause, some units will be allowed to essentially evict at lease end. These include sublets and in unit rentals, owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes, units being taken off the rental market (such as for the owner moving in or the units being destroyed), and units needing substantial repair

If more restrictions are required of landlords won’t the rental housing stock be reduced?

In a review of US census data in a number of jurisdictions with Just Cause Eviction policies, this has not been the case. In the last 8 years, Burlington appears to have over 400 units of owner-occupied housing converted to rental housing, in addition to new rental housing.

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