In Vermont, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Vermont varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Vermont law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Vermont
Landlord Responsibilities. As in most US states, Vermont maintains a robust set of health and safety standards which are applied to residential rental properties across the state. Landlords are chiefly responsible for upholding the key provisions of these habitability codes, which usually require said landlords to provide and maintain certain essential amenities in order for their units to be considered statutorily livable. Some essential amenities that Vermont landlords must provide include the following:
- Kitchen facilities that include a sink and space to sanitarily prepare and store food
- A bathroom that affords privacy and includes a sink as well as a tub or shower
- Non-absorbent flooring in all kitchens and bathrooms
- Sufficient supply of potable hot and cold water
- Proper public sewage access
- Adequate plumbing connections
- Proper receptacles for the removal of rubbish, as well as routine trash removal services
- Timely and adequate extermination services, as necessary
- In-unit heating up to 65°F in all rooms
- Proper ventilation in all rooms
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures in all rooms
- Foundations, floors, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, roof, staircases, chimneys and other structural elements that are weathertight, waterproof, and rodent-proof
A Vermont tenant may, at any time during their tenancy, request a repair to any of the essential amenities listed above, so long as that amenitiy’s disfunction is not a direct result of that tenant’s negligence or actions. If that is not the case, then their landlord has 30 days after receiving a repair notice to make all necessary repairs. If those repairs are not adequately accomplished in that timeframe, a Vermont tenant may determine that their unit is statutorily uninhabitable and request a lease termination in turn.
Tenant Responsibilities. Vermont tenants are chiefly responsible for the day-to-day physical upkeep of their dwelling such that their dwelling remains in a “safe and sanitary condition” at all times. To that end, all Vermont tenants must remove trash and other rubbish from their unit in a timely manner and deposit it in the appropriate receptacles provided by their landlord.
A Vermont landlord is responsible for ensuring that these responsibilities relating to a unit’s day-to-day livability are upheld, either as a matter of operations or through the provisions of an applicable lease agreement. Should a Vermont landlord find evidence that their tenant is not maintaining the safety and cleanliness of their dwelling, they can issue a 30-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit that requires said tenant to better meet their responsibilities or move out at the end of the notice period.
Also, when it comes to dwellings that have been made uninhabitable through a landlord’s inaction or negligence, a Vermont tenant has the right to take certain forms of alternative action. For example, when a Vermont landlord fails to make important minor repairs after a 30 day notice period elapses, their tenant may choose to perform the repair on their own and deduct the associated costs from a successive rent payment.
Meanwhile, if a Vermont landlord fails to make a major repair or fails to provide an essential amenity, their affected tenants may withhold rent entirely until their dwelling is brought back into livability compliance. A Vermont tenant who is choosing to pursue this later form of alternative action must provide written notice of their intent to their landlord in advance, though.
Evictions in Vermont
When it comes to evictions, most Vermont landlords consider this kind of leasing enforcement to be a last resort. Even so, Vermont landlords should know that the following three reasons for eviction are among the most common state-to-state:
- Nonpayment of rent – In Vermont, rent is always due on demand and at time agreed upon between a landlord and their tenant (ideally in their written lease agreement). If a rent payment is not provided at that time, a Vermont landlord has the right to issue a notice to pay to any and all non-paying tenants. This includes tenants who have rented for less than 2 years, who are entitled to receive a 30-Day Notice to Terminate. Meanwhile, tenants of 2 or more years are entitled to a 30-Day Notice to Terminate in a similar situation. In both cases, a notified Vermont tenant must pay up in full before the end of the notice period or face a forced eviction.
- Violation of lease terms – Vermont landlords are allowed to issue a 30-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit anytime they observe a tenant violating one or more of their lease terms. While Vermont’s laws do not require it, it is customary for this kind of notice to include a curing method that the notified tenant can follow to eliminate the threat of eviction. If this kind of remedy provision is included, then the Vermont tenant in question must follow its requirements precisely or face eviction at the end of the notice period.
- Illegal Acts – While Vermont state law does not enumerate almost any crimes that can specifically justify an eviction notice, it does indicate that violent crimes and illegal drug activity can both be used as grounds for issuing a 14-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit. Here, it is unlikely for a Vermont landlord to include a provision to remedy their tenant’s behavior in a satisfactory manner. As such, a notified tenant on these grounds should expect to be forced to move out in just around 2 weeks after being notified.
Evictions without a lease. Under Vermont law, tenants who rent from a landlord without entering into a lease agreement are considered “at-will” when it comes to the enforcement of their rental agreement. Even so, these “at-will” tenants are given some of the same protections from sudden eviction as their leased counterparts.
This is certainly the case when it comes to receiving notice in advance of an impending eviction. To that end, an “at-will” tenant in Vermont is entitled to the following amounts of notice prior to an eviction motion becoming active and binding:
- Rental agreement with no end date of less than 2 years – 60 days of advance notice
- Rental agreement with no end date of more than 2 years – 90 days of advance notice
Illegal Evictions. Vermont forbids landlords operating within its jurisdiction from seeking retaliation against their tenants for a variety of reasons. This includes evictions, which a Vermont landlord cannot initiate against a tenant who reports a perceived health or safety code violation to a state or local regulatory authority. Also, a Vermont tenant cannot attempt to retaliatorily evict a tenant for joining a tenant union.
Along the same lines, Vermont’s civil rights and fair housing laws prohibit tenants in the state from being evicted on discriminatory grounds. As a result, no tenant in the state of Vermont can be forced to move out of their rented unit solely on account of their religion, sex, color, nation of origin, age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, disability status, or reception of public assistance.
Security Deposits in Vermont
Vermont has set forth the following regulatory standards to govern how security deposits are collected, maintained, and redistributed within the state’s rental housing industry:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Currently, Vermont does not maintain a statewide maximum amount or standard limit on security deposits charged by landlords to their tenants. However, the state’s laws do allow local jurisdictions to institute security deposit caps or limits at their own discretion. So, while a Vermont landlord is generally allowed to charge as much as they want for a security deposit, their actual ability to do so may be limited by a local ordinance.
- Interest and Maintenance – Vermont does not currently maintain any laws dictating how a landlord must maintain their security deposits. As a result, a Vermont landlord may utilize any kind of bank account they so choose, including one that may or may not accrue interest on its collected funds. Should a Vermont landlord choose to utilize this kind of interest-bearing account, though, they have a full claim to all of its interest due to a lack of state law requiring interest distribution to tenants.
- Time Limit for Return – A Vermont landlord must mail or hand-deliver any remaining security deposit funds belonging to a tenant with 14 days of their tenancy concluding. These deposits must be accompanied by an itemized list of deductions that have been made from that deposit during its time in the landlord’s possession.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Vermont landlord fails to abide by the state’s mandatory security deposit return period (in whole or in part), they immediately forfeit any claim on their tenant’s security deposit funds. If it is discovered that the withholding of a tenant’s security deposit was willful, then that Vermont landlord may be forced to pay twice the deposit’s value, plus reasonable legal fees, as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – Vermont landlords are generally permitted to make security deposits for two primary reasons. First, a landlord in Vermont may deduct funds from a tenant’s security deposit if they fail to pay rent or a utility bill on time. Otherwise, a Vermont landlord may make justified security deposit deductions relating to the repair of a unit or the removal of personal belongings (in the case of abandonment).
Lease Termination in Vermont
Notice Requirements. Under Vermont law, tenants who are engaged in an active lease that includes a fixed end date need not notify their landlord of their intended termination in advance of that end date’s arrival. However, periodic tenants and those in leases without and end date must provide the following amounts of written notice before their termination request can be accepted:
- Week-to-Week lease – 21 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 30 days of advance notice
- Yearly lease with no end date of less than 2 years – 60 days of advance notice
- Yearly lease with no end date of more than 2 years – 90 days of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. In almost all situations, an early termination clause is the easiest and most accessible option for breaking off a lease before its stated conclusion. However, because Vermont state law does not require the inclusion of this type of clause in all rental housing leases, some tenants may not have an opportunity to utilize one. These tenants can instead utilize one of these alternative legal justifications for breaking a lease early:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Vermont landlords are responsible for maintaining the basic habitability of their rental units, including those that are occupied by tenants. This means that they must respond to and act upon repair requests in a timely manner while also ensuring that all essential amenities are present and operable. If a Vermont landlord fails to perform these necessary duties reliably, their tenants’ units may become statutorily uninhabitable. This condition may then allow a tenant to seek an immediate lease termination on the grounds of personal safety and well-being.
- Landlord Harassment – When a Vermont landlord intends to enter an occupied unit, they must always do so between the hours of 9 AM and 9 PM while also providing 48 hours of advance notice. If these entry standards are not met in non-emergency situations, then an affected tenant may be able to claim that their right to privacy is being invaded by their landlord. Routine infractions of the state’s mandated entry policy may even constitute harassment, which can be used as grounds for an unconditional lease termination.
Vermont state law does not legally oblige landlords to assist in the re-renting process after a tenant terminates their lease early. As such, a Vermont tenant may be required to continue paying rent on their former unit because a sublessor has not been found to take on the unit’s financial obligations. Vermont landlords may also not be required to accept sublessors that do not meet their regular tenant approval standards, even under these circumstances.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Vermont
Rent control & increases. Currently, Vermont state law does not specifically allow for localized rent control policies, nor does it outright prohibit or preempt the same kind of ordinances. As such, Vermont landlords are currently free to set their own rent rates without state-level oversight. Also, it is likely that no actual rent control policies will go into effect in the near future in Vermont due to the state only allowing local jurisdictions to implement laws with their permission.
However, this freedom to set rent rates does not extend to the timing of rent increases. To that end, Vermont landlords are required by state law to provide 60 days of advance notice to all tenants who will be impacted by an upcoming rent rate increase.
Rent related fees. Vermont does not currently maintain any legal statutes governing the administration of late rent payment fees. However, legal precedent in the state indicates that this kind of fee can only be charged as realistic compensation for costs incurred by a landlord during the period in which rent payments are absent. As such, the actual value of a late rent payment fee, as well as the circumstances under which it may be charged, can vary significantly.
Meanwhile, Vermont does explicitly prohibit certain kinds of fees. This includes application fees, which cannot be charged in any form to prospective tenants.
Housing Discrimination in Vermont
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. The Vermont Fair Housing Act provides protection provisions that exceed those set forth in the federal Fair Housing Act. In practice, this means that Vermont protects a greater number of tenants around the state from protection based upon their immutable characteristics. For example, Vermont maintains the following protected tenant classes in addition to those established through federal legislation:
- Marital status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Receipt of Public Assistance
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Vermont Human Rights Commission is tasked with administering and enforcing a wide variety of the state’s civil rights laws, including those that deal with the treatment of tenants in rental housing. As such, they have the power to determine which kinds of business practices exhibited by landlords are discriminatory enough to justify reporting. Among other options, a Vermont tenant may report their landlords actions if they target any protected tenants while engaging in any of the following activities:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
- Indicating that a unit is unavailable when it is, in fact, available
- Showing different rental units or failing to show certain units
- “Steering” prospective tenants toward certain neighborhoods
- Requiring different types of documentation
- Refusing to engage in certain lending practices, including a mortgage or loan, to an otherwise qualified candidate
- Imposing differing terms, conditions, or privileges among tenants
- Publishing advertisements that indicate a discriminatory preference
Tenants in Vermont who would like to file a complaint against their landlord may do so digitally or over the phone. This process usually begins by filing out an in-take questionnaire that helps the Commission to determine if a complaint warrants investigation. Vermont’s Commission does not specifically detail how its investigations are carried out, though, nor do they indicate what kind of findings these investigations are designed to return. As such, it is unclear if the Commission has any authority to administer penalties on a tenant’s behalf.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Vermont
These are a few more Vermont-specific landlord-tenant laws that you should know more about it whether you’re a landlord or a tenant:
Landlord Entry. In Vermont, landlords are always required to provide 48 hours of advance notice before entering an occupied unit. Also, these same landlords are only permitted to enter a tenant’s unit for any ordinary reason between the hours of 9 AM and 9 PM. This standard applies in situations where a landlord is attempting to perform regular business, such as when they need to show the unit to a prospective renter or complete a repair.
This statewide entry standard does not apply in emergency situations, however. That’s because Vermont landlords are still permitted to enter a tenant’s unit outside the normal hours and without notice if an emergency situation threatens a tenant’s safety.
Small Claims Court. Vermont’s small claims court allows landlords and tenants alike to formalize their disputes and seek a judicial resolution. To that extent, this judicial venue accepts cases valued at up to $5,000 in total. However, landlords and tenants cannot bring cases in Vermont small claims court that relate to evictions (these are handled in the state’s civil courts, instead).
Mandatory Disclosures. Vermont does not require its landlords to make any kinds of informational disclosures as a matter of state law. However, federal law does still require these landlords to disclose information about the dangers of lead-based paint to tenants living in buildings built before 1978.
Changing the Locks. Vermont does not maintain any statutes governing who may or may not change a tenant’s locks. As such, it is assumed that a tenant may change their own locks, so long as their specific lease agreement allows for it or they seek permission. Landlords may even be able to change a tenant’s locks unilaterally, though doing so is likely to open them to liability for initiating a lockout (which isn’t specifically prohibited by Vermont law, but is still discouraged).
Vermont Landlord-Tenant Resources
There’s still a lot to know about Vermont’s numerous landlord-tenant laws. These digital resources can help you really enhance your knowledge of this field in short order:
Landlord Tenant Education Materials – Vermont’s Agency for Commerce and Community Development maintains an excellent library of resources that can help educate new tenants and landlords alike. Included in this collection are a variety of handbooks, brochures, and classroom-style modules that can help a new landlord or tenant get up to speed on their legal responsibilities, both under the law and in practice.
Landlord & Tenant Judiciary Primers – These primer guides, created by the Vermont Judiciary system, are labeled such that landlords and tenants can learn all about the eviction process from their legal perspective. These guides even go into issues such as filing motions and counterclaims, which can really help a landlord or tenant who is in the midst of litigation.
Suing and Being Sued – As its name suggests, this collection of resources from the Vermont Judiciary system goes into detail about utilizing the state’s small claims court system from both the position of a plaintiff and a defendant. In particular, this resource contains links to nearly every form a landlord or tenant could need when filing or responding to fresh small claims litigation.