Valley News – Vermont Governor veto rental housing registry bill


MONTPELIER – Governor Phil Scott on Friday vetoed legislation that would have put in place a rental registry and a statewide system to enforce property security standards.

The governor said the bill, SB 79, “would reduce the number of housing options for Vermonters at a time when we are grappling with a severe housing shortage.”

“Most agree that we are suffering from a severe housing shortage for middle-income, low-income and homeless Vermonters, but the solution is not more regulation,” Scott said in his veto message to legislators.

Scott argued that adding restrictions and additional housing costs would discourage “everyday Vermonters” from renting out their summer homes, rooms or cabins as a way to supplement their income.

Instead of increasing regulations, Scott said, the state should invest in new and rehabilitated housing across Vermont, and “relax complicated and redundant permit requirements” to help expand the housing stock.

Democrats, who passed the housing bill in a veto session last week, argued that Vermont’s current system for regulating rental properties – which is mostly managed locally – is inadequate and does not provide enough protections for tenants who live in poor quality housing. housing.

Under the bill, rental safety inspections would become a responsibility of the Vermont Division of Fire Safety.

Democratic leaders said the rental registry would help improve communication between state officials and property owners and give the state a better understanding of its rental market, including its short-term rental industry. , which has exploded in recent years.

The bill Scott vetoed on Friday also included funding for programs to expand housing stock and homeownership in Vermont.

Under the bill, homeowners could receive grants of up to $ 30,000 to repair existing properties under Vermont’s $ 5 million rental investment program. In addition, the law would create a fund of $ 1 million to provide interest-free loans of $ 50,000 to new homeowners.

Scott said that despite his veto, these programs can go ahead because they were already funded in the state budget, which was enacted last month.

In a statement released Friday, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce said it was “surprised and disappointed” by Scott’s veto. Amy Spear, the chamber’s vice president of tourism, said the bill would “have guaranteed a safe rental environment while moving Vermont toward greater regulatory fairness in the accommodation market.”

The chamber, which backed the rental registry, argued that there was no level playing field between traditional Vermont accommodation companies and short-term rentals such as Airbnb properties.

Spear said during the pandemic, short-term rentals were exempted from on-site visits by regulators for compliance checks “because they are allowed to operate anonymously.”

“With thousands of (short term rental) units in Vermont, we believe it is important that these owners receive communications on how to ensure the health and safety of the traveling public,” Spear said. .

The governor said that in the future he could support a rental registry, but only for buildings with more than two units available for rent more than 120 days a year.

“This will ensure that we differentiate between those who rent accommodation just to support the household and the more professional owners operating a rental business,” said the governor.

Before the state transfers oversight of rental properties to the Fire Safety Division, it should further examine the resources and regulatory flexibility the division would need, he said.

As drafted, the bill would have added five new employees to the Fire Safety Division to perform rental inspections. But Scott said he believed the program “would require an even more costly expansion of bureaucracy in the future, which I couldn’t support.”

He also said the state should consider the training needs of local health workers, who conduct home inspections.

Democratic leaders criticized Scott for killing the housing bill.

“This vital bill provided a long-awaited complaints system to protect our constituents from unsanitary rental housing conditions,” Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, said in a statement.

“I am extremely disappointed with the governor’s actions today, at a time when we should do all we can to ensure access to decent housing for all Vermonters.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, said the veto “moves us back, not forward” in solving the housing crisis in Vermont.

“This bill was developed to create equitable solutions to our housing crisis, supporting both tenants and landlords, and it was passed with broad support from community and business organizations in Vermont,” said Krowinski.

“I have said throughout my tenure as president that we need to create a stimulus package that works for all Vermonters, and by vetoing this bill, the governor has taken resources away from our stimulus goal. “, she added.

Republican lawmakers in the Legislature shared Scott’s concerns about the housing bill.

Last week, Senator Randy Brock, R-Franklin, Leader of the Senate Minority Party, called the bill “intrusive” and said it would discourage landlords from putting rental housing on the market.

Minority Parliamentary Leader Pattie McCoy R-Poultney called the country’s first proposed rental registry “government overbreadth” and “another attempt to unnecessarily expand the reach of bureaucracy into the privacy of Vermonters “.

Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, chairman of the House General Affairs, Housing and Military Committee, which supports the bill, said Scott’s fear that the rental register would lead to less housing available “has no basis in fact”.

“If you take money from strangers for a room in your house, you are in a business and you should be held responsible,” Stevens said.

“But there is no evidence that people are going to stop renting because they may be invited or mandated to register their apartment,” he said.

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