Selectboard Meeting Notes – Tenants Union Proposal Passes 3-2

The Brattleboro Selectboard spent the bulk of their primetime evening discussing a proposal from the Tenants Union of Brattleboro. They heard from tenants and landlords about a wide range of issues, realized the problem was bigger than what Brattleboro can solve by itself, but pressed on to work on an ordinance limiting what landlords collect and how that money is used. A new board will be created to hear rental housing security deposit disputes.

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  • Preliminaries

    Chair Tim Wessel – Welcome. We did interviews and an executive session and now we’re back. Perseverance – we gathered the other day to see the ribbon shredding at Living Memorial park and it was a wonderful event. I hope everyone is celebrating that after 15-17 years, the skatepark is open and being used, probably at this moment. Thanks to everyone who made it happen.

    Town Manager Peter Elwell – two comments. The status of transitions regarding Police Chief and Finance Director – to fill the vacant Finance Director position we have some interim plans tonight, an accounting firm and an interim treasurer. We’ll commence a search shortly. Around the end of the year we expect a new FD. We will wait to recruit for a new Police Chief until we complete the community safety review. There will be much follow-up and community working together on steps forward for years to come, but this first step will be known when we are out seeking a police chief. In the meantime, he will retire and Capt Carrigan will be the Acting Chief, and he can be a candidate, plus we’ll do a nationwide search. Happy to answer questions.

    Ian Goodnow – two things. Elections. We have an election coming up. No in-person early voting in Brattleboro, but all voters were mailed ballots. Follow the instructions, sign the certificate. If you have questions, call the Town Clerk’s office. Return it via mail or the secure dropbox at the Municipal Center, or at the American Legion on election day. I’ll be there. You will bring in your mailed ballot and trade it in to vote in person, or sign a statement saying you lost it. Fill it in with a black pen, not a marker. Second, I did a ride-along with the Brattleboro Police Dept. I was able to ask many questions, learned a lot, and we have a had a lot of conversations about policing, and BPD is a partner in that discussion.

    Tim – we rely on you for voting updates. Jealous of the ride along. I have an image of you in the back seat asking what everything was.

    Ian – side seat.

    Tim – you can touch things!

    Ian – no.

    Brandie – ballot box is checked on the weekends. I know it happens!

  • Public Participation

    Tim – for anything not on the agenda… (52 participants right now)

  • Seasonal Third Class Liquor License Renewals – Echo Restaurant & Lounge, Flamingo Diner, and New England House

    Hilary Francis – as you may recall, the Dept of Liquor Control changed their process to have more local control over 3rd class licenses, so they come to Town Clerks now. 3rd Class give an option of full year or seasonal. We have three seasonal, here tonight.

    Tim – Echo Restaurant & Lounge, Flamingo Diner, and New England House

    Liz McLoughlin – what is seasonal about these restaurants?

    Hillary – they pay for 6 month chunks of time, rather than a for a full year. Not seasonal.


  • Water and Sewer Commissioners

    Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Waste Process Line Project – Ratify Public Works’ Purchase of Pipe and Fittings from EJ Prescott

    Steve Barrett – this has to do with the pipe bids for a waste line. We received bids before. FW Webb – on Sept 15th we took the FW Webb bid. They could no longer honor the price. Prices have changed rapidly. They did offer us a different rate – an increase of over $4k, so we went to the next bidder and they couldn’t honor the bid either. So we went to the 3rd bidder and they could honor the bid and give us the same price, and they had it in stock, but wanted $2900 for shipping. We think it best to accept the bid from EJ Prescott ($31,946.52) and pay the additional shipping fee ($2,900, for a total cost of $34,846.52). We ordered the fitting and pipe, so we ask you ratify our decisions. We’ll end up saving in operating costs later on. We thought you’d want the details of our decision. It was reviewed by the Town Attorney.

    Tim – has this happened before?

    Steve – yes – and we’ve had to rebid projects. The market is volatile.

    Ian – normally shipping would be included? What’s the urgency of this project? Beyond the market prices?

    Steve – we have pipes partially installed and other projects tied in (culvert) – it’s part of the water treatment plant upgrade. We spend $30k a year to dispose of this material that will soon be piped to the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

    Brandie Starr – the right thing to do.


    Exit 1 Industrial Park Utilities Upgrade – Award Bid for Water & Sewer Upgrade

    Steve – we have another bid recommendation. We had this re-bid because we had time. We recommend you award a bid to Zaluzny Excavating, of Vernon, Vermont, in the amount of $849,002. This project was put out to bid in July, then again to reduce the costs. This is a reduction from the July bids – we did get some savings. We’ve had good experience with them before. It will increase capacity at Exit 1 park, and provide additional water supply during breaks or fires. The system will support future housing and business in the area. Money comes from the Capital Fund and a grant.


  • Tenants’ Union of Brattleboro Request for Ordinance Regulating Housing Lease Deposits – Continued Discussion

    Tim – a request for an ordinance regulating rental deposits. Before we start, some mechanics. (They adjourn as W&S Commisioners… oops) Now, I continue. We have heard the summary of the request and looked over what it is modeled upon, and the last time we discussed this we had questions for staff and the Town Attny, so today’s meeting is to look at the request again and getting reports back. I’d like to ask everyone to make comments to keep it to two minutes, and please keep it to the exact business of the ordinance to keep things moving. This is not a first reading. If this moves forward there will be another meeting and another reading – it requires two public meetings and you can comment then as well. Raise you hands in the comments… we will hear from Bob and Sue first.

    Bob Fisher – I’d like to lay down the legal parameters. You have policy decisions to make. The ordinance is modeled after Burlington, and Barre has a similar ordinance they rescinded. In Burlington, it went into effect a long time ago and few cases that went to court from it. Both I know about were decisions in the tenant’s favor, but for other factors than the ordinance. For Brattleboro to enact an ordinance about security deposits, it comes from state law saying a town can adopt an ordinance about security deposits. It may authorize interest paid, or hear disputes,… it would be supplemental to the statute on security deposit. By definition, a security deposit is any advance deposit or prepaid rent refundable to the tenant at the end of tenancy to secure the tenants obligation to pay rent and maintain the dwelling. The ordinance can be supplemental, but not inconsistent with the state laws. Stay law says refunds of deposits must happen in 14 days, so you can’t say landlords have 30 days… there is not a lot of case law. The Housing Board of Review, if a town has one, it can hear and decide disputes over security deposits. The Town must adopt a housing code, and Brattleboro has done it. The creation of a housing board of review would hear matters about rentals and disputes over security deposits. Happy to answer questions.

    Tim – something drives me crazy about the statute. The justification for Burlington is based on it.

    Bob – it also has roots in its charter. We don’t have security deposits or rent in our Charter. Town can’t regulate rent. Security deposits, yes.

    Tim – this definition of security deposit. The second sentence is clear, but the first sound like it is at war with itself. Any advance deposit or prepaid rent which is refundable …. seems to say that it is anything, but then it says it is refundable… to me that doesn’t apply to last month’s rent because it is always returned. You don’t pay last months rent. Opinion?

    Bob – There can be challenges to an ordinance. I was surprised to not find any for that issue fo the fenitnion in Cittenden County court records. I couldn’t find one. There are two sides – one, that prepaid rent – say 1st, last, and security deposit, which is standard in many places. If last month’s rent was not refundable, then it could argue it isn’t a security deposit. The flip side is unconscionable contracts – so one-sided that they are absurd – you could have a landlord that wants 8 months prepaid plus a security deposit… it would flip the ordinance on its head and the contract wouldn’t be conscionable. I found cases about illegal application fees.

    Brandie – I was also confused when I looked up renters laws… any money could be a security deposit, and there is no such things as a deposit… the ACCD website.

    Bob – the function of the security deposit is to secure payment of rent and maintain the rental. The landlord must write to retain the security deposit if rent isn’t paid in the last month.

    Brandie – but tenant’s can’t say use my deposit as last month’s rent.

    Bob – I’d like to hear how that happens in practice. In Burlington, the security deposit can’t be used as last month’s rent.

    Liz – the tenant shouldn’t be able to say use security as last month. It is up to see if the landlord to see if the apartment is in good condition. My question is, it sounds like there is a confusion and a case hasn’t been brought, but the language isn’t clear about last month’s rent being a refundable element.

    Bob – I can only agree that that language is a bit confusing and it may need to find its way to court to find an answer to it unless the legislature wants to clear it up.

    Tim – so you can argue it either way. Is there any reason that any of us should be recusing ourselves?

    Bob – I don’t believe so. I don’t know all of your status, but if you are a tenant or landlord you are deciding something that won’t create something better for you as a tenant or landlord than others… like tax rates… you pay those taxes, too. If you want to make disclosures, that’s up to you. No need to recuse, though.

    Tim – I am a reluctant landlord of two units I used to live in. Brandie was also called out and it wasn’t fair. Sue?

    Sue Fillion – I was asked to look into the experiences of other towns. I spoke to Barre and Burlington. Also some state organizations. I sent it to a list of planners and got no response. I asked them about the deposit ordinances and housing board of reviews. Burlington had their Housing Board of Review for a long time and the ordinance was in 1986. Barre did it in 1994, then voted this year to rescind the rules 854-807. It’s a charter change for them, so they are waiting for the state. Both cities and staff didn’t have historical context to share – staff weren’t here back then – but gave me info on the housing review boards. They hear disputes of deposit returns, and hear appeals of housing orders from rental inspections. Not much info on what happened to rents after this went into effect. Appeals of security deposit generally busier in the summer. Barre has not been able to find board members – their board has been dysfunction since 2014. Burlington is run out of their legal department and a paralegal looks over it. Board members need to be impartial. It’s quasi judicial. Barre said their board had 2 landlords, 2 tenants, and a property owner. You also had question about other data and I gave you a memo with a snapshot about what we know about rentals in Brattleboro. Snapshot data, rental housing costs and affordability, and housing programs in the community that have units.

    Liz – Sue, last meeting you talked about a housing study. Are there things that could be added to that study that would inform this discussion to improve the housing market for landlords and tenants – can that be examined in your study?

    Sue – we applied for a grant to do that study – we won’t know until December, and then we’d right an RFP. We were going to look at town programs and regulatory issues but we can expand it.

    Ian – thanks for this work. Can you speak to some terminology – burden and severely burdened – what does that mean in Brattleboro?

    Sue – When you talk of housing expenses, the federal guidelines say a percentage of your monthly income going to housing and utilities. It should not be more than 30% towards those costs. The a household pays more, it is harder to pay for other things like food. If a household pays more than 30% they are cost-burdened (47% in Brattleboro), if you spend more than 50% amount you are severely cost burdened.

    Ian – a majority of renters are cost budded or extremely cost burdened. 55%.

    Tim – much like Windham County as a whole.

    Liz – wages and affordability of units. In 2020, if a household wage earner had $15 they could afford a one bedroom in Windham Co, so that makes me think that it is not the rent that’s a problem but income. What we all want is to have an increase of minimum wage. That would solve the problem in a way that isn’t about this ordinance.

    Brandie – I did out the math and a single parent with 2 kids at 40 hrs would get some deductions, they would net about $25k a year, which gets you to afford a rent of $780. Without the kids you’d have less. I don’t know of any one bedrooms for $780.

    Liz – hourly wages and annual wages…

    Brandie – there are calculators that show what you’d take home.

    Daniel – those are properties at HUD approved market rent. 2 bedroom is $1024. I did some price checks around town and in Vermont. It’s tough to find one bedroom for $816 – more like $900. When I heard about the bar chart – affordability is pegged on HUD fair market rent in that bar chart.

    Liz – there are also section 8… about 1/3 renters are low income.

    Brandie – we have 12-18 month waiting lists here.

    Liz – WWHT said today large units have shorter waiting times.

    Brandie – maybe – I wouldn’t rely on it.

    Daniel – my experience is that individuals need the most help, not families. It’s hard to have the funds. I’d like to come back to this later. Affordability is part of this, but do we want to regulate rent…

    Liz – what is our goal – to have affordable housing and more rental units in Brattleboro, or is it about deposits. It confuses me, what are our policies.

    Daniel – I don’t see this as the be all end all… this is a tool, a blunt tool, but lack of supply is an issue, low wages is an issue, affordability is an issue. We could work to reduce property taxes. I’m interested in if this ordinance is helpful as a tool moving toward the bigger goal.

    Tim – I think we all agree that at anytime it is hard on renters, and it is hard on property owners and landlords. I’m interested in seeing if this is or isn’t the right tool for the job. We can discuss this, or go to the crowd…

    Daniel – I’d like to hear…I’ve had emails from landlords. I’m curious to hear about the number of tenancies that end badly – using security deposit as last month’s rent, and what happens to that money that you hold – do you save it or leverage it for repairs?

    Ian – I’d like to hear from landlords how often they just return the security deposit. What percentage?

    Earl – I live in West B and I organize with the TUB and have a prepared statement that will be 5 minutes… in the 70’s there was a population boom here – back to the land – in the 80’s trend slowed. In 1987, Burlington and Barre had their ordinances. The intention was to prevent landlords from using savings. We hear echos of the same fears expressed then now. I don’t demonize landlords – they’d like to charge more and we’d like to pay less. We get priced out of communities. They own what we require for safety and security. The response has been varied. Tim Wessel had a one sided article… landlords say they will have to raise rents and rely on credit checks. They are unfunded attempts at intimidation. They aren’t having any difficulty getting applicants in Brattleboro.

    Tim – have to cut you off…

    Earl – I’m going to keep going…

    Tim – we’re going to cut you off…

    Robbie and Barry – Hi i i i i i i i (echo) I’ll pick up where earl left off – in this climate landlords are choosing the best options. Charging last month’s rent upfront seems to be a moral aspect – those with month will be better people. This proposal helps people without access to savings, and so they can pay for food. Putting a greater burden on renters isn’t in their interest. Renters who can afford the high rents aren’t here. Loans to tenants are a dry bandaid for an infected wound. Who would rent to someone who has to apply for a loan to move in. Leases are signed quickly. It increases rent burden on tenants – paying rent and a loan plus interest. A simple solution – if the board is worried, low interest loans should be offered to landlords if they have problems paying…

    Tim – thank you

    Robby – if this seems ridiculous, you should know George Carville’s proposal is equally ridiculous. This doesn’t add units or fix wages. It helps in one way…

    Tim – Okay… 3 minutes is our new standard.

    Ibrahim – thanks for hearing me out. None of my units are above HUD rates.. some of us keep it affordable. I don’t require 1st, last, and security for all of my properties. It is common for tenants that the security deposit will be used for the last month’s rent. I’ve been a landlord 2 years. Three times I’ve lost out of income at the end for various reasons – a death of a tenant, or evictions due to loss of employment. Evicitioons take 3 months (of unpaid rent). It is unrealistic to purse rent from someone who lost their job. I don’t want wages garnished. So the money up front helps protect against all this. For myself, I’d be happy to collect nothing up front if there was a reasonable way to collect costs later, but it isn’t like that in Vermont. Most landlords are from the area – I’m from Greenfield. I own 17 unions in Brattleboro.

    Tim – your minutes are up but you can have ore time to finish up because you were answering our questions…

    Ibrahim – we all care about the community and aren’t making large margins on the income. Our margins are small. Losing one month means losing income.

    Tenant Josh – Your reaction to tenants vs landlords was disconcerting. Don’t interrupt Tim. My focus to remind people that this isn’t a bandaid or one size fits all. This is to get the conversation started and where structurally the town allows us that people can access housing in an affordable way. 3x rent is not affordable, it is egregious. I support the proposal because it is needed.

    Tim – we take a break at 8 pm.

    Kate Barry – I’m a local relator and landlord and property manager. I’m hear to come in to … the proposal. Hearing the statistics of people burdened is disturbing to me as someone who loves the town. Importantly it needs to be more equitable. I see property values skyrocketing, rentals going high, to squeeze out people and workers who have lived here for generations. This proposal will start us toward more equitable practices. Our goal needs to be on housing assistance. It is going to get worse. We’re going into winter. We need to flip the script. I take my job seriously and it is my responsibility to my tenants to make sure my assets are protected. Why anyone uses a security deposit as a last months rent makes no sense. Thanks for hearing me.

    George Perides – I’m a landlord. I was thinking tenants and landlords provide a service. If I buy something at store I pay them and we don’t fight about it. I suggest maybe, I sent a letter to the board. There are 2800 rental units, and 40% turnover a year. Most are leaving forever. About 10% – 120 units, 10 units a month.. with $45k you could cover people to pay last months’ rent. When people move on they wouldn’t need to pay that money. $50k from Brattleboro could help. It forces tenants to plan ahead. If we send the off we help with homeless aid. WE don’t just have them leave the unit.

    Tim – let’s take a break, then a lot of people who want to say things, but also have 12 items after this one, so while we are breaking, let’s think of how to bring it in quick after hearing from more folks.

    Brandie – I have notes.

    Tim – break til 8:10pm.

  • Rental Housing, con't

    Tim – I am a bit discombobulated. Taking comments… anything about our timing?

    Daniel – 33 minutes for 11 people, plus we need some time… could we try to get this wrapped up by 9pm?

    Tim – we really have to.

    Barry Willis – I wanted to read a testimony… I’m a tenant in West B. Published on the tenants union website… “I’m a tenant… over the lat 7 years I’ve rented 5 places and have gone without housing. I borrow money for 3/5 of the homes I rented. I don’t have the resources to pull myself up in this high priced community. I’ve been able to afford the rents but no the upfront costs. I am frustrated by landlords providing good housing. The places I’ve rented have had many problems…the quality of the homes. Where did the money deducted go? Wew got charged for steam cleaning in a place with few carpets and normal wear and tear. Put a dent in being able to move into a new place. Black mold, orange fungus on walls – why do I pay so much when the landlord has neglect. I was in a house that was sold and we got deductions for minor issues. They remodeled and gutted the place…

    Tim – wrap it up please…

    Barry – they’ve walked in unannounced, I’ve stood up for rights and got a terrible reference.

    Tim – Thanks…

    Barry – I nor anyone has ever considered paying the last month’s rent. We rely on this references…

    Tim – Thank you. We’ll go with Jason Cooper.

    Jason Cooper – (can’t be heard – fumbling with controls… waiting for Jason… )

    Brandie – try F4

    Tim – can you unmute him Patrick?

    Daniel – how about he call in.

    Ralph – hello! So, I’ve been a landlord 4-5 years. Some of Daniels questions – the security deposit is placed in an account. I charge 1st, last and security. I have accounts – one for last month’s and one for security. As far as bad experiences – 6 in the past 5 years. The worst was $15000 to get the tenant out. I’ve had to store belongings. My most expensive unit is $1000 including heat and hot water. I’m told I can charge more but I don’t have mortgages so my margin is different. My building across the drop in center costs $21k just to sit there – heat, water, and property tax. There are 5 units. The tenants – $380 a month goes to the building. That’s my way to help the less fortunate. I don’t need to make any more money off the buildings. I could jump it up. I have a second building on Terrace St. I talk with Daniel’s coworker and refer potential tenants to reach out to you folks – there are programs to help with the security.

    Tim – take another minute…

    Ralph – as far as returning security deposits I don’t return because no notice is given, even if it isn’t an eviction and someone just walks out I still store there things.

    Daniel – Thanks for answer my questions. If this proposal went into effect and a limit placed on move in costs, how would that impact you?

    Ralph – with a good tenant it wouldn’t impact me a bit. I do have a unit that had three separate folks living. One left with a week’s notice and damaged wall to wall carpeting. His portion was $334 to replace the carpet… it doesn’t cover it. All three are technically responsible. I haven’t had any issues with 1st, last, and security. I finance the last month sometimes. Give me $50 a month. The person has to be able to afford the monthly rent, and if their references check out I give them a shot.

    Tim – Jason Cooper – his hand isn’t up, but …

    Jason Cooper – thanks. The stated purpose of the proposal is to because rents are high and there is a housing shortage and some states do have limits.

    Brandie – I’m catching some of your words…

    Jason – (moves to better position) so the three reasons… trying to understand how this proposal will change any of those things. I had some notes but have a hard time reading them. Property owners and tenants want the same thing – decent safe housing at an agreed upon price. It shouldn’t be adversarial. I’ve been renting for over 30 years and have tried to be cooperative and helpful to all tenants. Burlington, in their 35 years, only went to court twice? Seems like something put in place that isn’t solving anything. I have a clear definition of security deposit – tents should pay for rent and expenses while they are there. At the end, the security deposit goes back to the tenant. Otherwise, it can pay for damages. How often do landlords use security deposits and when is it returned? Many times I’ve returned 100% and I thank the tenant – but it is a rainy. Usually there is some cleaning or damage, or some furniture left behind. There are expenses. We take those from the security deposit. Most of the time those are the deductions. Sometimes someone doesn’t pay rent and it takes months to get rid of them. Usually there are damages. Sometimes we negotiate a larger security deposit if they are a greater risk. Many places help with security deposits. No one hasn’t been able to pay it.

    Tim – out of fairness, wrap it up…

    Jason – the pandemic has bee hard on anyone. There is money in CARES act to pay back rent, and money to get money to move into new places. We are now prohibited from eviction for any reason. To do this at this time would not be good. It would be an incentive for less housing.

    Marc Guillaume – I live in Greenfield and am a landlord in Brattleboro. Tenants that end badly? I just started this year and took over a neglected building. When you take it over, tenants will tell you if someone is a problem. We work to move out people with issues. In Brattleboro and in Mass, it is a 60 days notice to ask someone to move out. What happens to the money? It sits in the bank. How often do we return it? Whenever possible. If we didn’t renovate the unit we understand about chipped paint. Mass has a program to help with security deposits. My main point is that it is important to keep a balance. tenants in NY went this way, but in NYC they were asking for 6 months rent or a year of rent. In NY you have 30 days to end a lease. We have to give 2 months, but could only hold one months rent, it is unbalanced. Reduce the security deposit, but reduce the notice to 30 days.

    Brett Holmes – I’d be happy to answer questions. I don’t like being rushed. I appreciate what you are doing for the town. This is my first SB mtg. Thanks. I’ve been here a long time and did social work for 20 years and worked with kids, and my own business, and now I manage property. People say I’m crazy. But I love the town. I did find out that there are challenging things – heroin dealers pirating apartments. There are great people here. I’m raising my family here, but there are sometimes dangerous elements – I want to thank TUB I was confused about their goal – there are a lot of issues going on. I saw they are anti capitalist and don’t think housing should be run as a businesses. Are they anarchistic. I get get down with tearing down the system. One building I owe a quarter million on. It is old housing stock. It’s only going to get worse with people leaving cities. I can only provide the housing I have. I’d love to help make tiny homes for artists, but we can’t make more housing. Gentrification – COVID everywhere except VT – people are coming to VT and it will only get worse. We need to figure out how to make more income and more housing. Legalizing pot could make some money… housing becomes affordable when people have more money.

    Tim – I have to cut you off…

    Liz Francese – I live in Brattleboro. What we are doing is addressing a national issue but doing it on a community level in a small way. That’s why we’re at the lowest level of govt – maybe anarchist or maybe just hard work. We’re try to make baby steps toward social change. This happens when the people with the least work together for positive change, and those who have more capital support that change they understand it will make a better community or they are pressured to do it. Those say rents will go up, background checks, etc. If those people feel they provide housing instead of collecting other people’s wages to pay for it, they should ask how they can help. Listen to the community and hear the stories and contribute your support. I would nitpick what others have said but if this ordinance will end your business, then you need to put pressure upwards. Pressure the govt to support you supporting us.

    Paul Normandeau – the proposal includes requiring security deposits in an interest bearing account?

    Tim – I think that is an option but not spoken to much at all.

    Paul – I’d speak against it. If you know about interest rates. If you put $1000 in a savings act for a year that earns 10 cents. That’s a lot of work for a landlord to go along with. It creates another set of problems. Then you need to do a 1099 for the tenant. The other thing, as a comment, listening to Liz, I wasn’t under the impression until tonight that these are outside community organizers that came here.. I may be wrong – they are coming in here to organize tenants unions. This now, rent control later. That would really cause problems. A disincentive to invest in housing in Brattleboro.

    Tim – real quick

    Paul – Meg Mott had an article today in the Reformer about resisting the urge to mandate. Many well intentioned policies ending up hurting. It similar to what is being proposed here. You might create a situation not in favor of the tenant.

    Tim – the TUB people don’t come from outside. All residents. She was referring to a role TUB was trying play. We’re at slot number 8. 4 more…

    Steven – a landlord in Brattleboro with 49 units. The ambiguity in the language – if you vote tonight you need to take that into account. The other thing to think through is the Housing Review Board, and at what cost, and where the volunteers come from. People’s time is valuable. How will that work? Might be why Barre got rid of it. One third of renters are section 8 or voucher holders, more than most towns. 1/3 of 11,000. Brattleboro is creating housing. $400 apartments will have long waiting lists, and the market competes with that. I don’t see the threat of gentrification. I’ve never seen so many responses for apartments on craig’s list. When you break the $1000 threshold , demand falls off and you could end up waiting. The cost burden – 55% burden – where are those costs coming from – Brattleboro expenses – 3 months rent goes to Brattleboro taxes. Those prices are built in, and Brattleboro votes for more services every year, and it is built into the rental prices. It isn’t greed. The margins aren’t huge. Doing improvements doesn’t always pay you back right away…

    Tim – I’ve been stretching to 4 minutes for everyone…

    Monica – I’m reading on behalf of a tenant forced out of their home – the place was in disrepair, the fire-escape was block, holes in the walls for muses and squirrels, a rotten second floor. Bob Remy Powers made no moves to make repairs. The health inspector made a report. Not a single repair was made when I left. The last compliance document was a forged document. There is a lie of invested mattresses in the back. The rent was $1100 and a security deposit of $1200. He couldn’t give me back my deposit for a few days to be able to cover the funds.

    Annanda – a quick statement – who is it that the selectboard chooses to validate or not. landlords are asked clarifying questions and given more time, while tenants are asked to wrap it up and move it along. It is important that the commentary by landlords that they will raise rents and application fees. It is in the interest of low income people to block these fees. Landlords can sue for loss of rent. Tenants shouldn’t be exempt form paying rent. last month’s rent should be paid during the last month. It’s already state law that security deposits can’t be used as last month’s rent. To have a medium apartment you’d need a40 hr job at $23 an hour. Since that is happening soon, this rent ordinance is needed. Landlords can collect at the first of the month. Tim suggested making the deposit lower so it isn’t used as a rent substitute. The landlord said a drop-off over $1000 shows a drop-off – it is an indication that high rents inhibit renters. Ordinances should protect the lowest common denominator. Housing isn’t a business – it is a human right. Anything said else is violence against theses fortunate.

    Dorham? – It was distressing listening landlord who moved here to have business. They have never lived in low income. They spoke as if they didn’t know of low income. I teach children here. It was sad. I felt like landlord=s were given a priority and money is given a priority. If I lost my apartment I’d have to move out of town. TUB is collecting data and it shows years of neglect and the largest owners are doing the least. 33 Oak is invested with bedbugs and lead paint. Some tenants have been asked to not let inspectors in. If the deposits are used to maintain homes, why isn’t it happen. Housing is more important as ever. Landlords will get the small amount. I was forced to move into a place and got pneumonia on when using the stove on for heat – I had to take what I could get.

    Tim – we have a lot ahead of us and a lot here to, and we have things to address before we could even move forward on this. We haven’t talked about the Housing Board, or the interest bearing account idea, or…

    Elwell – want to regulate the ambient requested for a security deposit, and the housing board of review, and the account…

    Tim – just reaching a point of exhaustion…

    Ian – let’s get a sense of where the board is at. I’m in support of the ordinance and the housing board. The numbers speak for themselves. 55% are cost burdened tenants. I believe that the creation of the housing board can mitigate some risk of the current practices without charging last month’s rent. I was put here to put in the perspective of a young person trying to make it here… there are middle income pope that empty accounts to pay three months rent. Having those safety nets are critical. This will positively effect so many people in town, and it is not the answer to solving the housing crisis, but I’ll keep working on that and more equitable housing. This is one step of a longer journey. We have a huge housing crisis here, and I urge the board to vote for this. I can help figure out where the security deposit goes. That’s where I’m at.

    Brandie – when I talk to myself about this proposal I ask questions – is it pragmatic and reasonable to look at whatever few options we have to make housing more affordable. In this case, it isn’t just low income housing. There are some programs to help low income, and we have the rental inspection program. The lower and middle class – this is one thing we can do – we can’t do rent control or a liveable wage. Does more money mean safer? I am highly intelligent and can borrow the money. I’m a hustler to make the rent. I pick up side jobs. Just because I pay the upfront costs doesn’t mean I’m safe, just that I’m a human and need to be housed. Should the free market be in control of an essential human right? It isn’t a privilege to be housed. Can I trust individuals with that human right. I support this proposal.

    Daniel – I spent a long time thinking about this. Like Brandie, I have some knowledge to be a pretty low income renter in this town, through my job. At SEVCA we serve many folks and help them pay for security deposits and back rent. We have a housing resource center. We do a lot of case management and help people find apartments. Reducing the amount required to move in won’t create more units, or make it more affordable, but it is a small gesture toward making things more affordable and I’d support the Housing Board, which would be less expensive than going to court. Paul’s comment on the interest bearing account was interest. When it is your money sitting there you should get the interest. But savings accounts are useless. I don’t know what we can do about that. Some landlords talked of loans – but tenant loans would make them less liquid. If we did loans it should be for landlords.

    Liz – we have two problems – income and supply and this proposal is other. Yes we need a higher minimum wage or livable wage and reduce student debt. It’s on the ballot November 3, for a president and congress to do those things. In VT $10.66 is not helpful to anybody. What can the board do? We make sure we pay day laborers get $15/hr. A loan program for landlords or for tenants I’d be in favor, but as a supply issue, we have a low vacancy rate. We should encourage more rental units. We have nonprofit housing and free market housing. We have spent a lot of the money we have to use to leverage the amount – we’ve given $500k in grants and $250k loans, which gets us more millions from the state and feds. One third of renters live in some sort of subsidized unit. What we have to do is encourage more market housing and this program won’t do it. The board has tried to encourage new rental units. We need to support landlords or extra units or they will turn into AirBnBs. Nonprofit and market housing needs to be encouraged. We’re going to have a housing story and maybe we should wait for that. Not in favor of this proposal.

    Tim – I have concerns about the proposal. Some nuance we’ve learned has changed my thinking, but I have some themes from my commentary. Is this the right tool and the proper tool – many people have trouble paying upfront costs. I don’t ask for last month and I ask for a reduced security – I have to be careful about who I take. The little buffer can evaporate with one problem tenant. Why isn’t it better for us to use a housing assistance program to help people get into. People would apply and the money would go to the landlord. It seems to me that the risk to the town of driving up rents is a real one. I don’t see it as a threat. I din’t hear threats tonight. I heard statements about market forces and it being a business. I can see both sides, but behind it I see real people and a tight knit town. We knew almost everyone who spoke. The Cassidy’s were amazing landlords. Very decent people. Brandie asked if the free market should be in charge of fulfilling human rights? Absolutely not. Housing is a human right, but we don’t control the markets or capitalism, if we take a step to help tenants… this is an overly blunt tool to help tenants out and not make the rental market even more tough, with landlords just doing AirBnB and not have to deal with people smashing things up or not paying. It will increase risk to the landlord. The interest bearing account is silly and an undue burden. A separate account makes sense for landlords but there is no reason to try a movie loan program. We have a rental improvement program loan to help make new rental spaces for landlords – why not a similar program for tenants. Instead of this hammer. It might turn us more into a place like Burlington, where rents are even higher. It is apples and oranges but… it is hard to get apples to apples. So I feel like the intention is amazing. The activists should be pushing us to solve these things, but it is our job to figure out what will solve the problem without destroying things. We swim in a sea of capitalism. We can’t create a wall around Brattleboro. If we do this and the market collapses, and people don’t invest in Brattleboro. I used rent to pay my mortgage. It’s the wrong tool for the job and that’s it pretty much. We threaten our rental makers if we go through with it. The road to heck is paved with good intentions.

    Brandie – RHIP? Rental Housing Improvement Program. I think it is a great idea. Is it easier to have a fund for landlords apply to, then we have to administer income levels… easier for a landlord to report the problem and show us the bill. But it can’t be used for reimbursement?2 Income requirements would be harder to administer.

    Tim – that gets into laying blame. The George Carvill program would let you apply…

    Brandie – so I’m renting, and I move, so I paid 1st last and security for the current one, then I pay you to move in to the next place and still have to come up for those three payments for you, so I hope my current landlord will give me back my security deposit, then I have to come up with 1st and last… so this confuses me.

    Tim – if you pay last month in advance, your work check goes toward the next one..

    Brandie – the last month frees me from paying one but not both of you.

    Tim – it is so you can apply the income of the last month to the next rental.

    Liz – these are all interesting ideas and maybe we want Bob to explore the George Carvill plan or the RHIP landlord loan plan or see if there are better, other options that are better solutions to the problems.

    Brandie – I still support the proposal.

    Ian – I move we strike from the proposed ordinance the language about the interest bearing account. We’re saying that you pay every months rent and the security deposit is a refundable amount to recover damages. I move to strike the one line and then have the proposed ordinance come for a 1st reading at the next meeting.

    Elwell – you are suggesting we bring this back this ordinance as presented with one change –

    Ian – striking the portion about “accumulate an interest rate”

    Elwell – Ahhhh! That’s why I was confused.

    Ian – that’s my motion.

    Daniel – Ian, yes I’m in favor of the motion and I want to pour some cold water on the part about not using security as last month’s rent… it happens. Maybe the housing board of review can help with that.

    Liz – are we clear on what we are voting on? Bob presented something and we’ve read it but it wasn’t presented.

    Elwell – there is a reason we lean on Bob. We check with him. He wrote this because we needed to be within what statute allows. I thought the earlier proposal was clear, and it will come back two more times. If you want a summary tonight, Bob should offer it…

    Bob – this is a good discussion. The whole purpose to put it in ordinance form was to give your discussion some structure. You’ll still have more readings, with changes. It starts out with our authority, and the burdens, but then there would be no other payments behind 1st month and security, then it says what a security deposit can be used for, then we’d delete the part about interstate’s bearing accounts, and we’d leave in that it can’t be used as last month’s rent, then a pet addendum, and appeals going to the housing board. IN a nutshell, that’s what you are voting on.

    Tim – how do we enforce this?

    Elwell – the housing board of review would be to provide tenants and landlords with a place other than court to resolve disputes that arise from these provisions. The statute is pretty specific. The board can review disputes over security deposits.

    Bob – as to enforcement, the Housing Board will be limited to what the statutes provide for – they can’t award damages. That might need to go to small claims. I’ll find out…

    Liz – this is operate from eviction and other disputes…

    Brandie – they were able to talk about small issues with the apartment. That would be nice if we could find that out.

    Tim – who does the board answer to?

    Elwell – we’d need to decide who staffs this. There are alternatives of how we support this, which is different form enforcement. Jury of their peers would hear concerns, with some town staff support.

    Tim – I’ll resist the urge… vote?

    3-2 Tim and Liz against. It passes.

    Tim – we are at break time.

    And I am done for the evening. I can predict with near certainty that everything else on the agenda for tonight passes.

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