Business & Economy

Scott signs bill establishing moratorium on evictions, foreclosures 

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a press briefing on the state’s Covid-19 response last month. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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Gov. Phil Scott has signed a bill that establishes a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for the duration of the Covid-19 state of emergency. 

The legislation, S.333, came after Vermont courts had already largely halted evictions during the Covid-19 crisis.   

When the Vermont Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency on March 16, which suspended all non-emergency court proceedings, it effectively froze most eviction cases. A handful of courts in the state, including the Chittenden County Superior Court, went a step further to explicitly stop evictions and foreclosures.

But housing advocates warned that the Supreme Court’s emergency declaration hadn’t stopped all eviction processes during the pandemic. 

Vermont Legal Aid told lawmakers in April that it was aware of 22 cases in which writs of possession — documents served by sheriffs notifying tenants that they must leave their residence — were still in the works.

Erhard Mahnke, the coordinator for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, whose organization has pushed for the moratorium for weeks, said the new law gives “statewide consistency” on evictions.

He also called it a “public safety measure.”

“For anyone to be evicted or lose their housing at this point means that they will be at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus themselves and/or at greater risk of spreading the virus if they become homeless at this point,” Mahnke said. 

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Scott announced on Twitter that he had signed the bill Thursday, and thanked the Legislature for passing the measure.

The moratorium extends for 30 days beyond the end of the state of emergency, giving a grace period to tenants who may owe their landlords back rent. 

But the measure itself would not provide rent forgiveness or a rent freeze. 

“The moratorium is not a rent holiday. Rent is still due, rent is still owed,” Mahnke said. 

“People who can pay rent absolutely need to continue to pay rent so they don’t wind up in a hole at the end of this that is hard to dig out of.”

Housing advocates are now pushing policymakers to develop a rental assistance program for low income tenants struggling during the crisis. 

Erhard Mahnke, coordinator for the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. Supplied photo

Vermont’s Covid-19 state of emergency was due to expire May 15, but the governor announced Friday he was extending it to June 15 with some modifications.

The legislation signed by the governor does not prevent evictions altogether. Courts can still hold emergency eviction hearings in cases where tenants present a serious threat to the health and safety of other residents, including in situations involving drug use or violence.

The bill received the support of organizations representing both tenants and landlords.

The legislation also prevents foreclosures during the state of emergency.  But banks had argued that this provision was unnecessary. 

Chris D’Elia, the president of the Vermont Bankers Association, told lawmakers that banks he represents would not move forward with foreclosures during the crisis.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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