S.210 AN ACT RELATING TO RENTAL HOUSING HEALTH AND SAFETY AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
20 January 2022
Senate Bills 2021-2022
S.210 An act relating to rental housing health and safety and affordable housing
This bill is the replacement bill for S.79 (which was vetoed by the Governor last year). This new version has exempted a few more properties from the registry section. Specifically owner-occupied properties with three or less units, and any units rented for less than 90 days.
The Bill As Introduced
The Association provided Commentary on S.79 and much of it remains the same:
S.79 (Now S.210)
The Legislature has proposed S.79 as a global housing bill. It is made up of three distinct sections that impact landlords, each section as a stand alone would not work or be beneficial to landlord. However, the three sections together are a balanced and reasonable approach to regulating rental properties. The proposals in S.79 primarily came from the Rental Housing Advisory Board, which has spent multiple years collecting information, has sought input from landlords and tenants, and ultimately made a recommendation for the Legislature on these issues.
Transitioning the current complaint-based Town Health Officer inspection system into the Division of Fire Safety. Town Health Officers are not adequately trained in housing inspections and Codes, and the resulting inspections create challenges for both landlords and tenants. The proposal in S.79 will move the current system into Fire Safety. Inspections will still be complaint-based. Fire Safety inspectors are trained in Housing codes and understand what are actual violations vs. not actual code violations. Fire Safety would inspect using the fire code and the Rental Housing Health Code. In municipalities with professional Code Enforcement inspections, the habitability related conflicts and complaints against landlords have decreased and are easier to manage in court during an eviction. Having a professionally trained inspector creates a more predictable and reliable process for landlords. No codes are being changed with this bill. Landlords are still obligated to provide rental housing that is in compliance with the existing codes.
The statewide rental registry system. There has been a decade long plus push for a statewide rental registry. This current version is the most balanced version presented to date. The registry will not be public, nor available to the public. Entities such as Vermont Legal Aid and the Vermont Landlords Association will not have access to the registry database. It will be solely maintained by the Department of Housing and Community Development for strategic long-term housing plans and for providing information to landlords. The state would use the registry to communicate with landlords about new programs (i.e. VERAP, VHIP, other funding opportunities), communicate a change in regulation or law, or to pass other information that would be useful for landlords. For example, some landlords were not aware of the RHSP funding in 2020 and the state could have communicated that program to landlords in the registry were in place. For any municipality that already maintains a landlord registry, the landlord will not have to register with the state.
: The Vermont Housing Investment Program (VHIP). This provides permanent funding for the VHIP program, which was piloted in 2020 with CARES money. This program provides grants up to $30,000 per unit with a 20% landlord match to bring the unit into code compliance and for weatherization. The program would also provide grants for the creation of new accessory dwelling units. There are restrictions and requirements for prioritization for landlord to rent to tenants involved in the coordinated entry programs (existing homelessness), tenants who income is below 80% AMI, and those currently receiving housing vouchers. The program money will be a grant or a forgivable loan depending on how long the landlord participates in the grant program tenant placement system.