McQuiston: Eviction Report

Feb 7, 2019

The first place my wife and I had was a great apartment with an eat-in kitchen, two full baths, washer-dryer, porches, wood stove and even a jetted tub. We were lucky to get it. The place was just sitting empty and no one knew it, including the landlord.

Lucky us, we got a nice apartment and lucky for the landlord the renter hadn’t trashed the place before skipping town without notice.

Landlords and tenants aren’t always so lucky. Sometimes landlords have their places destroyed, or nearly so. Sometimes the renters neither pay the rent nor move out, and maybe simply try to game the system, resulting in an ugly eviction process.

And, frankly, we’ve all had that landlord whose only interest is squeezing every dime out of the market and being a jerk in the process.

Vermont Legal Aid released a report in January called Eviction in Vermont: A Closer Look. There are about 1,700 eviction cases filed in Vermont each year.

The entire eviction process is miserable for everybody and the overwhelming reason is predictable: unpaid rent, which represents 70 percent of all cases.

The cost of the unpaid rent and eviction process isn’t borne just by tenants and landlords, but also by taxpayers. The rest of us might have to pick up court costs and the costs of emergency housing and shelters and unemployment and health care problems resulting from homelessness.

Legal aid suggests tenants, landlords and taxpayers would all save money if there were state financial support of $800,000 to cover back rent of $2,000 or less.

This, they say, would cut Vermont’s eviction rate in rent cases by over 50 percent.

The Legal Aid plan seems to have a lot of merit. There’s no need for the Legislature to rush this through, but there’s also no reason for lawmakers not to take a serious look at the issue.

Less litigation? Fewer landlords getting caught holding an empty bag? Less homelessness? Less misery all around? What exactly is the downside to such a plan?

After all, it’s not too often you can find a nice, big, empty, clean affordable apartment with a view of the lake just waiting for you.