To begin, you will need the Complaint and the Answer form in front of you. The top portion of the Complaint has information about the court and the parties names. This is called the "caption," and it is how the court clerk knows where to file the paper. To begin filling out your Answer, you must complete the caption. Refer to the lowercase letters next to the blank spaces on the top of the Answer form.
Next to (a), write in the name of the county where the case has been filed. This information can be found on the landlord's Complaint.
Next to (b), write the Docket Number. There may not be a Docket Number for your case yet. Look through the papers you received from the sheriff to see if any of them contain a Docket Number. If not, you may leave this blank for now.
Next to (c), write the landlord's name as it appears in the Complaint. Your landlord, or the person or company that is filing the case, is the "Plaintiff."
Next to (d), write your name and the names of others on your lease as they appear in the Complaint. You and the "Defendant(s)."
Next to (e), print your name in the blank space. You are telling the court that you are the person filling out the Answer.
Under the caption is the section where you actually "answer" the Complaint. Although the Complaint does not state any questions, your job is to tell the court whether or not you believe each of the numbered statements in the Complaint is true.
For paragraphs 1-14 in this section, read the paragraph in the landlord's Complaint that matches each number, and circle whether you agree with what the landlord says, disagree, or you are not sure whether the statement is true or not.
If there are more paragraphs in the landlord's Complaint than you have numbers, write the number(s) of the additional paragraphs underneath using the same format and simply write out your answer.
At the top of the second page of the Answer is the section for Affirmative Defenses.
Failure to Terminate Tenancy
In most cases your landlord needs to give you a written notice to tell you that you are being evicted. This notice is often called a "notice to vacate" or a "notice to quit." Proper notice needs to be in writing, state a reason for the eviction and must be provided to the tenant a specific amount of time in advance. The amount of time in advance depends on the reason for the eviction. For more information read the Eviction section of Renting in Vermont. Or review the Steps in an Eviction page.
The law says that it is your landlord's responsibility to provide you with a house or apartment that meets certain minimum health and safety requirements. If you have tried to work with your landlord to have these conditions repaired but have not been successful, this defense may apply.
Your landlord should not be able to evict you for non-payment of rent if you withheld rent after giving notice or repaired something in your home and deducted the cost from your rent. If you have not paid the full rent for one of these reasons, check this box.
Regardless of the reason for your eviction, if there are conditions in your home that have an effect on your health or safety, and your landlord has refused to fix them, you may use this defense to show that your home is not worth the rent being charged. If your landlord is making a claim for back rent and there are unhealthy or unsafe conditions in your home, you may check this box.
Habitability can be a hard defense to prove. Although you will be allowed to testify in court about the bad conditions, you will need something in addition to your own personal description of the problems. A health officer's or fire inspector's report, photographs, and receipts for repairs will all help you prove your case.
For more information, refer to Vermont Tenants' booklet Renting in Vermont.
Tenants are protected against retaliation from their landlords. Specifically, there are three things that tenants have the right to do that are a defense to eviction: complain to the landlord about unhealthy or unsafe conditions in your home; complain to a government agency about these problems; participate in a tenants' union or organization. If you believe that you are being evicted because you did any of these things, check this box.
For more information, refer to Vermont Tenants' booklet Renting in Vermont.
Not all bad treatment is discrimination, and not all discrimination is illegal. A landlord who treats all tenants badly, but treats them all equally, is not discriminating. Bad treatment is only illegal if the landlord treats you differently because of your race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, religion, age, marital status, disability, family status (the fact that you have kids), or receipt of public assistance (including housing, ReachUp, SSI, SSD, Food Stamps or other programs).
Some housing is not subject to all fair housing laws. For example, there is an exception when the building is a duplex or triplex and the landlord or member of his or her immediate family lives in the building. In Burlington, owner-occupied duplexes are exempted from fair housing laws.
To prove a case of discrimination, you will need good evidence. Your word will usually not be enough. Good evidence includes witnesses who saw or heard the discrimination, people who were treated better than you, and complaint letters you wrote and responses from your landlord. If you believe that you are being evicted for one of the reasons listed in bold above, then check this box.
The Vermont Human Rights Commission investigates complaints of housing discrimination. You may wish to contact the HRC at (800) 416-2010 for information about filing a charge of discrimination against your landlord.
When a landlord creates a new tenancy by telling the tenant they can stay, or by signing a new written rental agreement, for example, the landlord gives up, or waives, his right to proceed with the eviction under the current notice. This happens in rare cases. A landlord does not waive his right to proceed under an eviction notice by sending more than one notice.
If you offer to pay your current and past due rent, as well as any costs for the eviction and your landlord refused to accept your money you should raise Tender as an Affirmative Defense. You will need to prove that you offered to pay, were able to pay, and the landlord refused payment.
Accord and Satisfaction
If you paid your landlord and the landlord accepted the money and said that you could stay, then you should plead Accord and Satisfaction as an affirmative defense.
Other Affirmative Defenses
There are other affirmative defenses available under Vermont Law. We have provided information on some of the most common affirmative defenses here. If you have questions about other affirmative defenses, you should consult with an attorney if possible.
This is the section of your Answer where you tell the Court what you want it to do. In deciding which boxes to check, you need to think about what outcome would satisfy you. You may ask the court for "possession" if you are still living in the rental unit and would like to continue to live there. Don?t check this box if you have already moved out and are only fighting about money.
It is a good idea to ask the Court for a judgment which states that you do not owe rent. This will apply any time your landlord claims you owe back rent and you disagree.
If you have raised the defense of habitability and your landlord is refusing to fix the health or safety problem(s), you may ask the Court to require that these problems be fixed. You can also ask the Court to rule that your rent be lowered for the period of time when your home was defective. Depending on the severity of the problems and how much rent you have paid, the Court may either reduce the total amount you owe the landlord (sometimes even down to nothing) or order your landlord to return some of the rent you already paid.
You should check the box next to the request for the Court to provide you with "any other relief the Court finds equitable and just". This part of the form gives the Court authority to come up with other ways to help you if you win the case.
You have the right to request a jury trial. In general, we recommend that if you are going to court "pro se," you should not ask for a jury trial because it forces the judge to treat you more like a lawyer. This means you will be expected to know many complicated rules of court. If you do not ask for a jury, a judge will hear your case. Check this box only if you wish to have a jury.
If you are filing counterclaims, check the last box. We have a counterclaim form to help you file counterclaims and an instruction form to help you fill out the counterclaim form. For more information read the Counterclaims Instructions.
It is very important that you sign and date your Answer. If you are filing on behalf of your family, only you need to sign it. Fill in today's date, sign and print your name. Also include your mailing address and a phone number where you can be reached. If the Court cannot get in touch with you easily, you may miss important deadlines or hearings. Make it easy for the Court to reach you.
The certification is the proof that you have mailed or delivered a photocopy of your completed Answer to the person named in the Summons. This is the landlord's lawyer or the landlord himself if he has no lawyer. Fill in that person's name and full address in the spaces provided.
You should make two copies of your Answer. The original papers (the ones you actually signed) must be filed with the clerk of the Superior Court for the county in which the case was brought. The Complaint states where your case has been filed.
The Answer must be filed within 20 days from the day you were served. If you miss the deadline, you should still file the papers as soon as possible. The papers may be mailed or hand-delivered as long as they reach the clerk's office by the end of the day on the 20th day from the date of service.
You must also mail or hand-deliver a copy of your Answer to the landlord's lawyer. The lawyer's name and address is found on the Summons you were served. If the landlord is representing him or herself without a lawyer ("pro se"), mail or deliver the copy of your Answer directly to him or her. Keep the second copy of your answer for your records. If you are filing counterclaims, these must be attached, filed and served as well.
The Vermont Judiciary Website has a list of all the Vermont Superior Courts by County. You can also get directions to the Court, see when your case has been set for hearings, and get Court forms.
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