What is Just Cause Eviction?

Just Cause Eviction (JCE) is a form of tenant protection policies designed to prevent arbitrary, retaliatory, or discriminatory evictions by establishing that landlords can only evict renters for specific reasons — known as just causes — such as failure to pay rent. Just Cause ordinances also prevent “de-facto” evictions, and require landlords to offer current tenants the right of first refusal at the end of a lease. Just Cause Eviction ordinances are an important policy tool to prevent displacement and promote tenant stability. This is especially proven in neighborhoods where rents are rising and vacancies are low and where landlords may seek to evict existing tenants to renovate their buildings and attract wealthier renters at higher prices.

Just Cause ordinances also protect tenants who report inadequate housing conditions or request repairs, an issue that is particularly acute in Burlington.

why Does Burlington need JCE?

During the pandemic, housing costs in Vermont rose 40%, making first-time home buying out of reach for the majority of Vermonters. This has expanded housing inequality; putting economic power in the hands of landlords in a city where available housing units sit at 1-2% with no plans in the pipeline for the city to increase affordable housing in any meaningful way. Post-pandemic No-Cause eviction cases went from making up 10% of eviction cases, to being the reason given for 50% of all evictions in Chittenden County. The biggest impact of no-cause evictions, however, is landlords refusing to re-sign leases with current tenants; this is used as a threat to tenants to prevent complaints regarding code violations or landlord harassment. This has led to unfit housing units to be rented at ever-increasing prices with no incentive for landlords to provide adequate housing for tenants. The combination of these factors make it untenable for lower (or even middle income) residents to live in Burlington in safe and affordable housing, and is fast approaching a critical issue in the city. The passage of JCE would be a progressive step towards alleviating this crisis, while honoring the will of the people, who voted for this measure with a strong majority in the spring of 2021. 

What will jce look like in burlington?

Based on the city Charter Change that passed in March 2021, Just Cause would be implemented in certain circumstances for tenants and landlords in Burlington.

Broadly speaking a Just Cause for Eviction would include:

  • Failure to pay rent

  • A material breach of a written rental agreement

  • A violation of State Statutes regulating tenant obligations in residential rental agreements

  • A tenant’s failure to accept written, reasonable, good faith renewal terms.

A Just Cause would exclude the expiration of a rental agreement. Landlords would be required to offer tenants the right of first referral to the next year's lease if the tenant had adhered to the regulations listed above. 

The Charter also lays out the circumstances under which landlords would be exempt from Just Cause Eviction ordinances, these include;

  • Owner occupied duplexes and triplexes

  • If the landlord’s property is being withdrawn from the rental market (i.e. the landlord sells their property to an owner who will occupy the premises themselves or is not continuing to use the premises as a rental property).

  • The current landlord wishes to use their property to house an immediate family member who will use the unit as their primary residence.

  • If the property needs substantial repairs that would require the property to be vacated

  • Any properties that fall under the exemption list under the Title 9, Chapter 137 and 4452 Vermont Statutes on Rental Agreements - these include hotels, motels, halfway houses, homeless shelters, hospitals etc. Full text and list can be found here.

Finally, the Charter Change requires Burlington City Council to create ordinances to make JCE reasonable for both landlords and tenants. These ordinances include;

  • Mitigation and assistance for tenants who are required to move when a landlord can meet an exemption to JCE.

  • A reasonable probationary period for tenants after initial occupancy before they are protected by JCE.

  • A limit on unreasonable rent increases to prevent against de facto evictions or non-renewals (i.e. a landlord cannot raise the rents by $1000 per month in order to rid themselves of their current tenants who adhered to the rules).

  • Require landlords to provide notice to new tenants on what Just Cause Eviction is and how it will affect them. 

This is not the full text of the Charter Change, all of which can be found here (p4-5).