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In Absence of Pandemic-Era Moratorium, Vermonters Facing Eviction Have Few Places To Go

A photo showing a blue face mask and a piece of paper reading eviction notice
BackyardProduction/Getty Images
Millions of dollars in rental assistance have gone out to Vermont households whose finances were hurt by the pandemic. But now that eviction moratoriums have expired, some families are at risk of losing their apartments.

On Aug. 4, Kayla Pierro was at her apartment in Newport when she heard a knock. She opened the door, and a sheriff’s deputy handed her an eviction notice.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And of course, he had no answers. And I don't owe anything. I was like, 'There's no reason for me to be getting these papers.'"

There wasn’t a reason listed in the court papers. Landlords are allowed under Vermont law to end a lease — and file evictions — without giving a specific reason.

Pierro rents a two-bedroom apartment for $700 a month. She lives with her husband and three kids, ages 6, 8 and 11 months. She said the eviction came as a shock. They’ve been able to keep up with their rent, in part because they were able to use the state’s emergency rent program.

More from VPR: Vermont Tenants Are Still Waiting For Assistance As The End of Eviction Ban Draws Closer

More than $25 million dollars have gone out to thousands of Vermont households to help them pay their rent, and there’s still tens of millions available. The federal money, part of one of the coronavirus aid packages, is meant to help needy families whose finances were hurt by the pandemic.

But after state and federal orders halted evictions for more than a year, they've started up again. And for families like Kayla Pierro's, who are at risk of losing their apartments despite the availability of money, there are few places to go.

Pierro has been looking for a new place, but there’s not much available. And what she does find is well above her $800-a-month budget.

“I found a place in Derby — it's $1,000 and something a month,” Pierro said. “They're ridiculous amounts, and that's not including first, last, [and] security deposit.”

More from VPR: Rental Assistance Program Could Help Thousands Of Vermonters Stay Housed

Court records show that Pierro’s landlord initially tried to file the eviction in July of 2020, but it couldn’t be served until pandemic eviction moratoriums ended this year.

Since July 15, when Vermont’s ban expired, 240 eviction cases have been filed, according to the Judiciary. Prior to the pandemic, there were about 150 evictions filed a month. Jean Murray, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, says it’s too soon to know if the state is seeing a major uptick in cases.

“I wouldn't necessarily call it a spike, I would say it’s rise,” Murray said. “And I'm not sure where it's going.”

Anecdotally, Murray said, she’s seeing more no-cause evictions where the landlord also alleges nonpayment of rent.

But Angela Zaikowski, director of the Vermont Landlords Association, said she’s not seeing any trends in recently filed evictions. Zaikowski, an attorney who represents landlords in eviction proceedings, said some people want to sell their property or even move in themselves.

“The landlord does own the building and does own the real estate,” she said. “And so many times, they're making decisions that sort of are beyond the tenant living in that property.”

"I'm worried, like, if we don't find a place, we're gonna end up in a hotel or something, because we don't have anywhere else to go."
Kayla Pierro, Newport resident

But for tenants like Pierro in Newport, a landlord’s decision doesn’t feel beyond them. Those decisions often force tenants into precarious situations. As Pierro tried to quiet down her 11-month old son, she said she was stressed.

“I'm worried, like, if we don't find a place, we're gonna end up in a hotel or something, because we don't have anywhere else to go,” she said.

Recently, Pierro found a place in their budget, but the rental company seemed wary of their applications after they learned about the pending eviction. But she’s hopeful that if their current landlord explains what’s going on — that the eviction is not for anything she did wrong — that they'll be able to get the new place.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

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