The Town of Brattleboro will vote on a ban to No Cause Evictions in a referendum on March 7, 2023. Landlords and managers of rental properties are strongly opposed to this ban.
The term “No Cause Evictions” is a bit of a misnomer. There is always a cause when a property owner or manager does not renew a lease. And these are not exactly evictions, they are non-renewal of leases at the lease terminations. Tenants are able to leave at the end of a lease, why should the owner or manager not be allowed to ask the tenant to leave?
No Cause Evictions are a tool used by property owners and managers to ensure the safe and quiet enjoyment of rental properties by all tenants. Taking a tenant to court for a “For Cause Eviction” is extremely costly ($5,000 to get started), take many months and offer no guarantee of results.
For instance, when a tenant is smoking in a unit against the building policy and disturbing other tenants, that tenant could claim at a court hearing that he/she had stopped smoking – and nothing would happen. It is also difficult or impossible to prove other bad behaviors, such as loud noise, pounding on walls in the middle of the night, screaming at others, acting belligerently toward other tenants, dealing drugs, excessively damaging property and hoarding. These are all common reasons property owners and managers ask tenants to leave at the expiration of their leases.
Were property owners and managers not able to arrange for the “bad tenants” to leave, the “good tenants” would continue to suffer. It is not the owners and managers who have to live next door to bad tenants. It is the other tenants in the building. Owners and managers try to protect their good tenants.
No Cause Evictions have the added benefit of leaving no negative mark on a tenant’s rental history. Were the owners and managers to achieve a For Cause Eviction, that would go on a permanent record. No Cause Evictions, on the other hand, leave no negative record.
If the ban passes, property owners and managers will become much more discriminating about the tenants they allow into their properties. It will become even more difficult to rent an apartment.
If bad tenants cannot be removed, there would be negative impacts on the building. Other tenants would move out. With less rent, the owners and managers would not be able to afford repairs. Buildings would deteriorate. The surrounding neighborhoods – and the Town at large – would suffer.
Owners and managers of rental properties ask the voters of Brattleboro to vote “No” to the proposed ban.
Laws and lease agreements
Of course there is no cause for a no-cause eviction – that’s the very definition: “no cause [needed]”. Lease non-renewals are a form of no-cause eviction. The idea is that a tenant who has paid their rent and done nothing wrong should not be suddenly told “you have 60 days to leave”. We want to create an ordinance against that.
Housing laws are written to allow for “for-cause” evictions. We have leases that have long lists of things that are against the lease. We have laws about how to go about evicting someone for cause. We have entire legal systems in housing court to determine whether a cause for eviction is true.
Using a no-cause eviction to serve what should be a for-cause eviction sidesteps the very intent of the laws that are created to protect tenants, rendering them useless. Why even write detailed leases for behavior or have legislatures write tenancy obligations if they don’t matter anyway?
The state has a 2.4% vacancy rate. I’ve been told Brattleboro has a .7% vacancy rate. Landlords are already incredibly discriminating and if you ask anyone who has had to find a new apartment this year, the bar couldn’t really get much higher. With up to 30 applicants per apartment, landlords already can be extremely picky. They can also raise the rent 50-100% in many cases. Unfortunately, that means that Brattleboro residents who receive a no-cause eviction are nearly guaranteed to not be able to find replacement housing. We have single moms couch-surfing and disabled residents unable to find an apartment at all, much less one without stairs.
A no-cause eviction is almost certain to lead to homelessness or an untenable situation, because the vast majority of those no-cause evicted in Brattleboro are on section 8, retired, on disability, or working low income.
Just Cause Eviction has been passed in many states and municipalities and there have been no deterioration of buildings or suffering in neighborhoods. In fact, it turns out that having a more stable housing situation for renters improves the health of communities. It’s good for the working class and those without means to have the same address, feel safe in their homes, put down roots, and establish longstanding support systems.
A landlord thinks of a property as an investment, but a renter thinks of an apartment as a home. In Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs the two bottom, foundational layers are psychological and physical safety. Knowing one can be required to uproot at any time, particularly with the housing crisis in full swing (which doesn’t show any signs of abating in future years), means all the other parts of ones life rest on shifting sands.
Stable housing is the bedrock on which stable lives are built.
Brattleboro is 50% renters. If half of the town could be told to leave their homes at any time, even if they pay their rent on time and break no rules, that just doesn’t seem right to many of us.
I’m sorry this cause upsets landlords. Most local landlords are our neighbors and send their kids to the same schools and go to the same churches or clubs as the rest of the town. But the new, out-of-town landlords buying up buildings have no roots here, no reputation to worry about, and no loyalty to their current tenants. Because of their cruel activities over the past year, many of our already-hurting low income and senior renters have been traumatized and left to wonder where they will live!
We make regulations all the time to curb the more cruel aspects of capitalism. We have laws against price gouging. We have safety regulations that we enforce, even when two parties would have made an agreement without safety regulations – for housing, cars, and consumer products. Creating a Just Cause Eviction ordinance in Brattleboro is a form of regulation intended for the safety and health of those within our community.
I hope that our neighbors who are landlords can agree to take in some of those who have been displaced by out of town landlords no-cause evicting large numbers of existing tenants this year. It would really help.
Whatever its merits, how would a ban on no-cause evictions remediate the housing shortage?
Just Cause Eviction is not designed to remediate the housing shortage–which is definitely a problem in Brattleboro and elsewhere. Its intent is to protect people from being evicted without cause–just because the landlord wants to raise the rent or turn a property they don’t live in into a short-term rental. Particularly at a time when there is a shortage of affordable housing, people who get evicted run the risk of becoming homeless. Brattleboro is talking about creating an overflow shelter because we don’t currently have enough shelter beds–which are not homes–for people who are currently homeless. The last thing we need is to create more homelessness.
There are many other dimensions to the housing problems our community faces that also need solutions, including but not limited to the housing shortage. This is a modest proposal that will provide protections for one group of renters.
Hi, SK-B! I don't think it's that it will remediate t
Hi, SK-B! I don’t think it’s that it will remediate the housing shortage, but that the people who are being no-cause evicted currently are victims of the housing shortage.
I’m aware that resources like Groundworks, SEVCA, state caseworkers, and other agency caseworkers have all been working tirelessly to try to find new places for those evicted. It’s somewhere between hard and impossible to find folks a new apartment that takes section 8, is handicapped accessible, or that they could afford (much less qualify for). It’s straining our social services and heaping overwhelm onto an already overwhelmed system.
At some level, however, passing JCE would reduce the amount of people in imminent danger of homelessness.
Filing fee for lawsuit
I’ve also just been told that the filing fee for a suit is $295.