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Advocates plan to lobby for and against just cause eviction veto override

A screenshot of the Just Cause Eviction Burlington, Vermont logo
WAMC screenshot
A screenshot of the Just Cause Eviction Burlington, Vermont logo

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has vetoed a change to the city of Burlington’s charter that would add a clause preventing tenants from being evicted without just cause. Proponents of the Just Cause Eviction measure say their focus is to now assure the legislature overrides the veto.

In March 2021 Burlington voters approved Question 5 – a proposed charter change to “provide protections for residential tenants from evictions without just cause.” It passed on a 63 to 37 percent margin. Then-Ward 3 Progressive City Councilor Brian Pine had sponsored the proposal.

“This not a radical, radical concept. The notion that if you play by the rules, if you pay your rent, if you follow your lease, if you don’t disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of the property you deserve the right to not live in fear that you’re going to get an eviction notice.”

Because the measure is a charter change it must be approved by the Vermont legislature and governor. Despite approval by Burlington voters and the Vermont House and Senate, Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed the charter change Tuesday.

He wrote “...we must not add policies that will remove much-needed housing units from the market. This ‘just cause eviction’ law effectively creates the potential for perpetual tenancy, undermining private property rights and a foundational principle of choosing to rent your property.”

Rights and Democracy Vermont Housing Justice Organizer Tom Proctor is not surprised.

“This isn’t something that just hasn’t come as a shock. It’s something that we are very much being prepared for and we are currently working with allies inside and outside the Statehouse to make sure that we do get this veto override, which we’re confident we’re going to get.”

The Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs for the Vermont Association of Realtors says a number of their members are concerned about the just cause eviction measure. Peter Tucker says the governor made the right decision.

“The just cause and rent control charter change that Burlington had put forward is going to be bad for renters, bad for landlords and will reduce the numbers and quality of rental properties in the city of Burlington. But it passed Burlington so we think it’s the right policy decision that it has been vetoed.”

Governor Scott’s veto message notes that the charter change will make it difficult to remove tenants even at the end of a lease and “...my fear is this bill will discourage property owners from renting to vulnerable prospective tenants, or to rent their units at all.” He also said it will “....increase both costs and inequality in the housing market.”

Proctor takes issue with the governor’s reasoning.

“One thing that was particularly galling was his co-oping social justice language in order to maintain the status quo and continue to block this very important housing and tenant’s rights initiative.”

Tucker meanwhile notes that no formal policy was included in the measure to craft regulations if a veto override is successful and the charter change is implemented.

“If this was approved then it would go back to the city of Burlington to create the regulations for it. That was one of our other concerns is it didn’t seem like there was enough guidance in terms of how this thing would be created.”

The charter change now returns to the Legislature to consider a veto override.

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