Business & Economy

Brattleboro will reconsider its shelved plan to cap rental move-in costs

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For rent signs await shoppers at Brown & Roberts Hardware in Brattleboro. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

BRATTLEBORO — Town government’s on-again, off-again study of a municipal cap on rental move-in costs is on again, with local leaders set to reconsider a recently shelved plan that would be only the second limit of its type in the state.

“I am going to hope rather than fear this,” says Selectman Daniel Quipp, who first supported the proposal, then changed his mind and now has changed his mind again and is pushing for another vote next month. “I have more information, and I feel this ordinance will be better for the greater good.”

About half of local residents are renters who often struggle to pay first and last month’s rent and a large security deposit in one lump sum, according to the Tenants Union of Brattleboro.

In September, the town adopted an ordinance similar to one in the state’s largest city, Burlington, that prohibits landlords from preemptively collecting the last month’s rent.

“The enormous costs of securing a new place to live is an ever-rising hurdle to housing people in our town,” the advocacy group wrote in its request to the selectboard. “There is no reason to require more than the first month’s rent and a security deposit equal to that amount before allowing a tenant to move in.”

In a split decision, the selectboard voted 3-2 last month to pursue an ordinance, only to have local landlords voice enough opposition to spur leaders to hit the pause button and explore other options.

“I want to help tenants be able to afford to move into apartments, and I also recognize that we can’t just put all of this burden on landlords and expect it not to have any consequences,” Quipp said at a recent meeting. “If we want to address the issue, is there a different way to go about it?”

Local leaders have been studying proposals to establish funds to help low-income renters who can’t afford move-in costs, as well as landlords challenged by unpaid rent. They initially hoped to use government Community Development Block Grant money, only to learn that might not be legally permitted.

“It sounded like a great idea,” Town Attorney Robert Fisher recently told the selectboard, “but unfortunately for our discussion here, I found that cannot be used.”

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Community Development Block Grants can only be used to create housing, Fisher discovered.

The five-member board is looking into whether the town could use the federal money to help tenants become homeowners through down payment assistance or assist landlords with property damages if there is no security deposit.

“Can we explore whether there’s any nonprofit housing association that would be willing to take on such a project,” Selectwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin asked, “and whether they or the town would be interested in seeking funding from foundations to bankroll this?”

As local leaders research those options, Quipp has asked his board colleagues to reconsider the shelved cap on rental move-in costs.

“I hoped that we could use CDBG funds for landlords or tenants,” he said at a recent meeting, “but upon finding out we can’t, I would like to bring that ordinance back to a future agenda.”

The selectboard is expected to revisit the proposal at a December date yet to be scheduled, with the measure requiring back-to-back approval at two separate meetings before it becomes law.

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Kevin O'Connor

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