Habitability and Heating in Rental Housing: Free Resources Available Now in Vermont!

In Vermont, thanks to funding from the federal and state governments, we have the opportunity to make Vermont’s rental housing stock healthier and safer and more energy efficient at no cost to tenants and landlords. Landlords and tenants can both benefit thanks to two free programs available now called VERAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program.

What should you do if you live in a rental unit that has bad conditions?

Vermont’s “warranty of habitability” requires landlords to keep their property “safe, clean and fit for human habitation” and to “comply with the requirements of applicable building, housing and health regulations.” Once the temperature outside is less than 55º, the heating system needs to work, and room temperatures must be able to reach at least 65º without overheating one room as a way to heat adjacent rooms. If heat is included in a rental agreement, heat must be provided once the outside temperature is less than 55º. The warranty of habitability cannot be waived.

If a tenant discovers a defective condition in their rental housing, they should notify their landlord and let them know about VERAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program. They are described below. This is a great time for landlords and tenants to collaborate to improve Vermont’s rental housing. Tenants can find out more about their legal rights under the warranty of habitability by following this link.

If a landlord refuses to make repairs or refuses to participate in VERAP or the Weatherization Assistance Program, tenants can contact Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid for help at 1-800-889-2047. We can help tenants understand their rights and options under the law, and may be able to represent them if they wish to pursue a free mediation program to resolve any disputes with their landlord.

Details on the two programs:

  1. VERMONT EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (VERAP)

VERAP can provide up to $30,000, with no matching requirement for the landlord, to bring properties into compliance with rental housing health and safety codes. The funding is only available if an eligible tenant applies for VERAP and poor conditions have been documented. Eligibility can be approved based on a quote; payment is made upon completion.

What tenants are eligible?

  • Tenants must be obligated to pay rent on a residential dwelling in Vermont, and
  • Household income must be below 80% area median income, and
  • The household is experiencing housing instability (defective conditions count), and
  • The household has experienced some form of financial hardship due to COVID-19.

What expenses can be paid?

  • Repairs that are necessary to maintain or return a unit to compliance with safety codes.
    • The following repairs qualify automatically: Fuel tank replacement, essential heating system repair or replacement, well repairs, septic system or sewer repair, plumbing repairs, lead paint essential maintenance practices, mold abatement, and bedbug eradication.
    • Other repairs are considered on a case-by-case basis, with documentation of need from a State or local official.
  • It does not matter who is responsible for the cost of the repair under Vermont landlord-tenant law. Whether the poor conditions were caused by the landlord or by the tenant or by the effects of time and nature, if the repair is necessary, VERAP may be able to cover the cost.

What documentation is needed?

  • Tenants must complete the VERAP application and be approved.
  • Landlords must complete their portion of the VERAP application and provide the following:
    • Documentation of need: Repairs required as documented by a qualified professional, like a town health officer, fire marshal, plumber, electrician, or pest control professional.
    • Cost estimate or invoice: Anticipated or actual repair costs must be documented by a licensed or certified contractor or other home repair professional. If costs exceed $15,000, two quotes must be submitted.
    • VSHA provides a “letter of intent” to the landlord.
  • Completion of work and payment: Landlords upload the final invoice through the VERAP portal. VERAP issues payment upon final approval. The landlord pays the home repair professional directly.

2. WEATHERIZATION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

The Weatherization Assistance Program can improve the energy efficiency, safety, and comfort of Vermont rental properties, increasing their value for the landlord and helping tenants save money on energy bills. On average, the Weatherization Assistance Program makes about $8,500 worth of improvements per home, with no landlord match.

Who is eligible?

Properties (not tenants) can only receive weatherization assistance once every fifteen years. Tenants and landlords must both be willing to participate. Tenants must fall into at least one of the following four categories:

  • Tenants who are below program income limits.
  • Tenants who receive seasonal fuel assistance (below 185% FPL).
  • Tenant households where at least one person gets SSI.
  • Households in which an adult receives Reach Up benefits (child-only Reach Up does not count).

What kind of services are available and what kind of improvements can be done?

  • Whole-house energy assessments and building diagnostics.
  • Full-service energy efficient retrofits, including improving insulation and air-sealing. For 1-4 unit properties, the program may also be able to assist with indoor air quality issues, like bathroom ventilation.

How can tenants and landlords apply or get more information?

Updated: Dec 17, 2021