New Report: “Eviction in Vermont: A Closer Look”

In Vermont, approximately 1,700 eviction cases are filed every year. The number one cause of eviction is falling behind on rent. In most cases, families lose their housing, leading to increased rates of homelessness, unemployment, mental and physical illness, and financial and housing instability.

On January 16, 2019, Vermont Legal Aid released a report, Eviction in Vermont: A Closer Look, examining the problem and calling for policy solutions to reduce evictions and the deepening poverty caused by them.

This report marks the most comprehensive attempt to date to study evictions in Vermont. Its key findings are as follows:

  1. One in 44 (2.25%) renting households had an eviction filed against them in 2016.
  2. In 70% of the cases, unpaid rent was the only issue (as opposed to violating the lease or evicting “without cause”).
  3. In cases where unpaid rent caused the eviction, the median amount of rent due was $2,000.
  4. In three-quarters of the cases, the plaintiff (landlord) had a lawyer, and the defendant (tenant) did not.
  5. Three-quarters of households that had an eviction filed against them were evicted.

In the report, the voices of tenants explain how eviction is a kind of accelerant for poverty: it comes out of poverty, and it creates even more. Research has shown that even a year after eviction, parents and children are more likely to suffer from depression, stress, and negative health outcomes than their non-evicted peers. Eviction can significantly damage a tenant’s subsequent employment, housing and credit prospects.

For landlords, evictions reflect a loss in rental income, lost time in court, and a financial cost for court and attorney fees. Evictions also cost Vermont taxpayers resources through additional burden on the court system and, when an eviction leads to homelessness, through funds needed for emergency housing and shelters. Taking a more proactive approach to prevent evictions would save money for landlords and taxpayers.

The report recommends the following policy changes to address this issue:

  1. When a tenant falls behind on rent, provide adequate financial supports to help tenants who can maintain the tenancy long-term come current and avoid eviction. We estimate that an annual amount of $800,000 strategically invested in back rent support could cut Vermont’s eviction rate by over 50%.
  2. Once a case is filed, increase legal representation of defendants in eviction cases or make it easier for defendants to capably represent themselves.
  3. Expand and develop programs to help tenants manage their rental payments.
  4. Reduce the number of tenants who fall behind on rent by addressing the broader housing affordability crisis.

“Taken together, we believe that these recommendations would reduce Vermont’s rate of evictions and homelessness and prevent the hardships that occur for both landlords and tenants when a tenancy is terminated,” said Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney Jessica Radbord, who is one of the authors of the report. Follow this link to download the full report and recommendations.