Tenants face 26% rent hike in Thetford

There is no limit to how high or how often a landlord can raise rents.

Institutional investors have been buying or building single family homes to rent in large numbers since the Great Recession in 2010. A 2020 report by MetLife Investment Management estimates that 40% of all single family rentals will be owned by institutional investors by 2030. In 2021 alone, an estimated 24% of all single family homes sold nationwide were purchased by investors.

Thetford’s 2020 Town Plan reports that 18% of Thetford’s housing stock are rentals, which could be single or multi-family properties. Furthermore, the vacancy rate was below 1%, which is consistent with the rest of Vermont and the lowest in the nation. This indicates a very limited availability of rental housing, including affordable housing. “Affordable” housing is defined as housing that costs less than 30% of household income. According to the Town Plan, “a HUD survey of 177 of the 200 rental units in Thetford found that 61% had rents at or above 30% of the renters’ income, while 23% had rents 50% or more of the renters’ income.” In other words, affordable rental housing is a scarce commodity in Thetford.

In December, one Thetford household fell victim to an increasingly common trend. A new landlord had purchased their building and was raising rents, in this case by over 26%. For this unit to be considered affordable, the household income would now need to be $10,000/year higher. When the tenants — let’s call them Ashley and her family — could not pay the higher rent, the new landlord sent an eviction notice.

“I’d prefer to avoid you incurring legal fees or having the sheriff have to get involved,” the new landlord said in a text to Ashley.

Luckily, there’s Vermont Legal Aid, which helps low-income residents with civil legal problems, including tenants facing eviction cases in court. Their services are free.

Ashley is not in court (yet), but the prospect can be overwhelming. So can having the sheriff show up at your home. Luckily for all tenants and landlords, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) maintains a tenant handbook, Renting in Vermont: Information Handbook for Tenants and Landlords.

Ashley was relieved to learn that, “Under no circumstances may a landlord remove a tenant who is still living in an apartment without first getting a judge’s order. The judge’s order (called a writ of possession) directs the sheriff to put the landlord back into possession of the rental unit… It ordinarily takes at least two months from the start of the eviction to get a judge’s order saying the tenant has to leave, and it can take much longer.”

The handbook covers a wide range of topics, from tenant protections to housing codes. In Vermont, anyone who occupies a room or rooms (including a hotel or short-term rental) becomes a tenant after 30 consecutive days. If their occupancy is fewer than 30 days, they are a guest. “It is important to note that a thirty consecutive day occupancy period does give the former guest the same rights of any residential tenant, including the right to proper legal notice for termination and a judicial eviction process.” This is true whether there is a long term lease, month-to-month lease, or no lease at all.

Does Ashley have to pay the higher rent or face eviction? Yes, there is no limit to how high or how often a landlord can raise rents (except as defined in a lease), provided there’s 60 days’ legal notice. However, the tenant handbook and resources like Vermont Legal Aid can help guide her and her family through the process.

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