Landlords in Vermont can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Vermont.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated January 11, 2022
Each state has its own eviction laws. These laws govern the eviction process, lay out the rules landlords must follow to evict tenants, and explain how tenants can use defenses to dispute the landlord’s claim(s). This article explains Vermont’s eviction laws. It can benefit tenants living in Vermont who are facing eviction, behind on rent, or have a lease that is about to expire.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the process landlords use to legally remove a tenant from a rental property. The landlord must always give the tenant written notice before beginning the eviction process. Tenants also can’t be evicted until the landlord gets a court order.
A landlord is never permitted to enter the tenant’s property, change the locks, or do anything retaliatory to force the tenant to leave. This behavior violates Vermont law and is considered an illegal eviction or illegal lockout.
Tenants may be evicted for different reasons, including unpaid rent and other lease violations. In Vermont, landlords must follow different procedures for evictions due to nonpayment of rent versus evictions for lease violations.
Who Can Be Evicted in Vermont?
For an eviction to take place, a landlord-tenant relationship must exist. A landlord-tenant relationship is formed two people sign an agreement for one to live in the other’s property for a specified time. Usually, a person living with the tenant can be evicted even if they’re not listed on the lease.
Vermont’s Residential Rental Agreements Act (RRAA) defines rental agreements as anyagreement between a landlord and tenant about the tenant living in a rental unit. This agreement can be written or oral. Having a rental agreement gives the tenant the right of possession of the premises. This means you have the right to live in the property and say who comes and goes.
The RRAA covers rentals from a private landlord, subsidized housing, mobile home rentals, farmworker housing, employer-provided housing, and transitional housing. Each of these tenancies has different requirements and eviction procedures, so it’s important to know what type of tenancy you’ve created with your landlord.
Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Vermont?
In Vermont, you can be evicted for just about any reason. Even though Vermont allows oral rental agreements, it’s to the tenant’s benefit to have a written rental agreement. Written agreements are more secure, and your landlord must give you longer notice prior to eviction.
Under Vermont law you can be evicted for:
Nonpayment of rent
Breach of the rental agreement
Termination of rental agreement when the property is sold
Termination for no cause under terms of the written rental agreement or verbal agreement
Although there are many reasons you can be evicted, your landlord is still required to go through the legal procedure in court to have you evicted for any reason.
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The Vermont Eviction Process
In Vermont, there are two main processes for eviction: one for nonpayment of rent and one for all other reasons including lease termination and expiration and no-cause evictions.
The Vermont Eviction Process if You’re Late, Short, or Behind on Rent
Your landlord may terminate your tenancy for nonpayment of rent if they provide written notice at least 14 days after the day rent was due. If you pay the full amount of past-due rent within 14 days, you can cure the problem and avoid an eviction proceeding. Note that if the landlord accepts a partial payment, this doesn’t prohibit them from taking legal action for eviction. The landlord can file an eviction lawsuit if the tenant doesn’t pay the full rent due and remains on the property past the 14-day notice.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction for nonpayment of rent?
To begin an eviction case for unpaid rent, the landlord must give the tenant a termination notice for nonpayment of rent. This notice must clearly state:
That the landlord is ending the rental agreement,
The amount of rent due through the end of the rental period, and
The date the tenant has to leave the rental property.
In Vermont, the landlord may provide written notice by:
Hand-delivering it to the tenant.
Sending it by first-class mail to the tenant’s last known address. The court will assume the tenant receives this three days after it’s mailed.
Sending it by certified mail with proof of the tenant’s receipt of delivery from the post office.
If the tenant fails to pay the amount owed or to leave the property by the expiration date on the notice then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court. Still, the landlord isn’t permitted to enter your home because the court has not issued an eviction order.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court for nonpayment of rent?
Once the landlord files the eviction action with the court, they must serve the tenant with:
The summons, which tells the tenant when and where to appear for the hearing.
The complaint, which addresses the reason for the eviction lawsuit.
A notice of appearance form.
The motion to pay rent.
The landlord must do this within 60 days of the date they filed the complaint.
It’s then up to the tenant to respond to both the motion to pay rent and the complaint by filing an answer with the court within 21 days. You must include your affirmative defenses and counterclaims in your answer, or you won’t be permitted to raise them at trial. It’s essential to list any and all defenses you may have. If you need help with this, you can contact a tenant’s rights attorney or a nonprofit legal aid organization.
Once you respond to the motion to pay rent, the court will schedule a rent escrow hearing within 14 days. It’s crucial that you attend the escrow hearing. It’s your opportunity to:
Ask the judge for extra time to pay,
Dispute the amount you owe, or
Come to an agreement with your landlord so you can avoid the eviction lawsuit altogether.
If you fail to show up to the rent escrow hearing, the court will order you to make rental payments directly to the court that will be delivered to the landlord. If you fail to follow the order, you’ll be evicted in just five days without a trial.
You must respond to both the motion to pay rent and the complaint to avoid a default judgment. A default judgment occurs when the tenant fails to defend or respond to the lawsuit filed against them. If your landlord gets a default judgment against you, they can ask the court to garnish your wages to collect the judgment. The default judgment will also show on your rental history and may prevent you from finding rental housing in the future.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims for Nonpayment of Rent Evictions
You can use both affirmative defenses and counterclaims at your rent escrow hearing. And if your case proceeds to trial, you’ll need to use them there to argue your side of the story as well. If you’re being evicted for unpaid rent, you can bring any defenses you feel will help your case as long as you have evidence to back them up. You can list both affirmative defenses and counterclaims in your written response. This information applies to both nonpayment of rent evictions and evictions for all other causes.
An affirmative defense is a response to the landlord’s claim against you. If you successfully raise a defense, your landlord may not be able to evict you or claim damages against you. Some defenses a tenant may use include:
The landlord didn’t give you proper notice of the eviction proceedings.
The landlord failed to maintain safe property conditions or make necessary repairs.
The landlord violated state laws.
The landlord made an agreement that you could stay but then changed their position.
A counterclaim is a claim you want to bring against your landlord. This includes some type of violation on the landlord’s part. Examples include:
You may have a retaliatory eviction against the landlord if the landlord files an eviction claim against you because you filed some type of complaint against them, such as a health department claim.
You may have a discrimination claim if the landlord violated fair housing laws by discriminating based on your gender, identity, or race.
You may have an illegal eviction claim if the landlord changed locks or turned utilities off without your permission because you failed to pay rent.
Not all defenses and counterclaims will be relevant for your case. You can speak with an attorney or legal services group to better grasp these defenses and the proof they require. Consulting with an attorney or legal aid organization may be useful even if you’re representing yourself.
Vermont Eviction Process for Lease Expiration or Termination
In Vermont, landlords can also evict tenants when the lease expires or if the landlord terminates the lease. A landlord can terminate a lease with no cause or because they sold the property, but this most often happens when the tenant breaches the lease terms (other than the nonpayment of rent). In all of these cases, the landlord must give the tenant written notice prior to filing an eviction with the court.
When a lease expires, the tenant must move out of the rental property if they don’t plan to renew or extend their lease. If they stay on the property, they become a holdover tenant and the landlord can proceed with the eviction process.
The landlord is required to start by notifying the tenant with a termination notice. Notification timelines vary by the length and type of tenancy:
Landlords must give at least 30 days' notice for monthly rentals.
If the tenant rents weekly, the landlord must give at least seven days' notice.
If the tenant has been in the rental continuously for over two years and is renting monthly, the landlord has to give at least 60 days’ notice.
A lease termination occurs when a landlord terminates a lease before the lease period is over. In Vermont, the landlord may terminate a written or oral lease:
If the tenant breaches the rental agreement. For most breaches, the landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice before filing an eviction proceeding.
If the tenant engages in criminal activity or poses a threat to others’ health and safety. In this case, the landlord must give 14 days’ notice. The landlord can legally terminate the lease without giving the tenant time to cure (address) the violation.
If the property is sold to a different owner. The landlord can terminate a verbal rental agreement or a written lease that specifically allows for early termination of a tenancy when their property is sold if they provide 30 days’ notice to the tenant.
For no cause (see below).
Under Vermont law, the landlord can terminate a written or oral lease without cause. Landlords are required to give tenants written notice if they want to terminate a lease for no cause. The time requirements vary for written and oral leases, as well as the length of tenancy.
If there’s no written agreement and the tenant makes monthly rent payments, the landlord is required to provide 60 days’ notice to tenants who’ve lived on the premises for two years or less. If the tenant’s lived there for more than two years, the landlord must give 90 days’ notice.
If there’s no written agreement and the tenant pays weekly, then the landlord only has to provide 21 days’ notice.
If the landlord terminates a written agreement for no cause, they must give 30 days’ notice if the tenant resided on the premises for two years or less. The landlord must give 60 days’ notice if the tenant has lived on the premises for more than two years.
If a landlord fails to provide the required notice before filing an eviction with the court, you may be able to get the eviction case dismissed. Similarly, if the landlord fails to give you the right amount of time in the notice, you can take legal action against the landlord for improper eviction procedures.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction for a lease termination eviction?
To file an eviction case in court for lease termination, the landlord must provide a written termination notice with the reason for evicting the tenant. The written termination notice must include a termination date, or the date your tenancy will end. The notice has to be sent or delivered a certain amount of days before the termination date.
Vermont law has a landlord-tenant statute that provides the statewide notice requirements for the different cause of action claims. However, some cities in Vermont require more notice than others. There may also be more than one claim in the lawsuit.
In Vermont, the landlord has three options to serve the tenant with termination notice:
They can hand-deliver it to the tenant.
They can send it by first-class mail to the tenant’s last known address, which the court assumes the tenant received three days after mailing it.
They can send it by certified mail with proof of the tenant’s receipt of delivery from the post office.
If the tenant refuses or fails to leave the property by the termination date, the landlord can bring the lawsuit to court to evict the tenant.
The landlord starts the eviction process against you by filing a complaint against you in court to get an eviction order. The landlord has up to 60 days after the end date in the notice to file this complaint.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court for a lease termination eviction?
Once the landlord files an eviction lawsuit in one of the Vermont courts, the court will assign a docket number to the case and give the landlord a summons and complaint. The landlord must then have these documents served on the tenant within 60 days of filing the complaint. The documents can be served by a sheriff or a process server. The summons and complaint may be given to you or left at your unit with a person “of suitable age and discretion” for service to be proper.
In Vermont, the complaint must include:
The address of the property
The name of the tenant(s)
The date the tenant began renting
Whether the agreement is oral or written
The rent amount and when payments are due
A description of any other parts of the agreement that are relevant in the case
The ground(s) for eviction
When and how the landlord gave the tenant notice
Any additional information to support the claim
As the tenant, you have 21 days to file a response (also called an answer) with the court. You must include your affirmative defenses and counterclaims in your reply, or you won’t be able to raise them at trial.
If you don’t respond, the case will likely end in a default judgment, which essentially means you lose the case. If a landlord gets a default judgment, they can ask the court to garnish your wages to collect the judgment.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
The court may enter judgment as soon as the trial is over or wait until later, depending on the circumstances. If you’re not satisfied with the judgment, you can file a notice of appeal with the district court. This new trial, sometimes called a trial de novo, is typically decided by the district court that rendered the first judgment.
Once a judgment is entered for the landlord, the tenant is ordered to vacate the premises. If you don’t leave on your own, the court will have the sheriff or constable execute the eviction, which means forcibly evicting you. In Vermont, the court will execute a writ of possession that returns the property to the landlord.
Once the sheriff serves the tenant, they will send a return of service to the landlord stating that they served the tenant. After this takes place, the tenant has 14 days to leave the property. The landlord will set up a time to go to the property after those 14 days pass and arrange to take back the property.
Even if the court enters judgment against you, you may still be able to work out a monthly payment plan that can help you continue to live in the rental property. It’s essential to reach out to an attorney or legal aid service for legal advice as soon as you receive an eviction notice.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Vermont
If you’re facing an eviction lawsuit or threats of eviction from your landlord, these tips may be helpful.
If you’re bringing a lawsuit against the landlord or using specific defenses about the property’s conditions, gather any documents, photos, videos, or other evidence that supports your claims. It’s a good idea to have a municipal building inspector visit the property and issue a report about the property's condition as well.
If you can’t appear for a scheduled court date, you should contact the court clerk as soon as possible and ask for a continuance or alert the court that you can’t attend. It’s essential to have clear communication with the court because they will be deciding for or against you. You risk default judgment if you don’t communicate.
If you’re being evicted for nonpayment of rent and you’re able to pay the past-due rent, make sure to document all rent payments and communications. In some cases, you’re required to pay the rent to the court, so be sure to note when and where the payment was made.
It’s important to be proactive when you can’t make rent payments, even though this can be a very stressful situation. Sometimes your landlord will be willing to set up an agreement with you to make payments. Or they may agree to drop the eviction lawsuit if you move out by a specific date. Having an eviction on your rental history can prevent housing opportunities in the future.
Even though Vermont allows oral agreements, it’s best to have a written lease that clearly outlines the terms of your agreement with your landlord. If you’re able to negotiate any agreements with your landlord to stop an eviction, be sure to get your agreement in writing. Also, make sure it is signed and dated by both you and your landlord.
Tenant Resources in Vermont
Vermont Judiciary: Landlord & Tenant Eviction Information
Resources for Renters and Landlords from the State of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development
Vermont Law Help: All About Rental Agreements from Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont