Legislature holds hearings on rental housing safety

By: Mia Watson

The Vermont House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs is holding hearings on rental housing health and safety issues. The Committee will hear from tenants, advocates, and health and housing experts on their concerns regarding unsafe rental conditions and gaps in health code enforcement.  

This action comes as a new report has been released from Vermont Legal Aid, documenting renter difficulties in resolving health and safety issues with landlords. The report finds that many tenants are not fully aware of their rights, and that fear of eviction and lack of affordable housing alternatives frequently prevent tenants from reporting health code violations. It also reports that town health officers are often unpaid volunteers who lack the experience and time to adequately address health code violations. The report calls for a statewide system to register and certify rental properties, increased penalties for health code violations, professionalization of the role of town health officers, and the creation of more affordable rental housing.

36% of Vermont’s rental housing stock was built before 1940, which is much higher than the national average, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Older homes are often poorly insulated and have ineffective heating systems. Safety issues such as asbestos, lead paint, rodent infestations, and leaks that can cause mold are also more likely to be encountered in older dwellings.

Eight years ago, the Legislature established a Rental Housing Safety and Habitability Study Committee to study these issues. The committee was chaired by VHFA’s Executive Director, Sarah Carpenter. The committee issued a report with some of the same recommendations that Vermont Legal Aid now proposes. "Sorry to say that not a lot of them have been implemented in the last seven years," remarked Carpenter. "It's time to resurrect them."

The House hearings are scheduled to continue this Thursday, January 25th.