Introduced by Representatives Kiss of Burlington, Cross of Winooski, Donovan of Burlington, Dowland of Holland, Fisher of Lincoln, Head of S. Burlington, Howard of Rutland City, Kitzmiller of Montpelier, McLaughlin of Royalton, Minter of Waterbury, Pillsbury of Brattleboro and Zuckerman of Burlington
Subject: Housing; state rental housing registry; safety and health; training
Statement of purpose: This bill proposes to create within the department of public safety a state registry of rental housing units which will have as its goal the preservation and protection of rental housing for the benefit and safety of the owners and renters of that housing. The registry will provide uniform and responsive rental housing code inspections, improve the safety and habitability of rental housing through education and training for property owners and tenants, and develop technical assistance and financial resources to support property owners in their ownership responsibility to maintain rental properties in compliance with the state’s rental housing health and life safety codes and to support enforcement of those codes in regard to both tenants and owners in order to preserve and protect existing rental housing.
AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A STATEWIDE RENTAL HOUSING REGISTRY TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY, SAFETY, AND HABITABILITY OF RENTAL HOUSING IN VERMONT
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
Sec. 1. 20 V.S.A. Part 11, chapter 205 is added to read:
PART 11. HOUSING
Chapter 205. Rental Housing Safety and Habitability
§ 4641. RENTAL HOUSING SAFETY AND HABITABILITY FUND;
(a) The rental housing safety and habitability fund is established in the state treasury for the purpose of creating a statewide rental unit registry program to be administered by the department for the purposes of collecting and maintaining data about rental housing units in Vermont and providing education, training, and support to landlords and tenants to maintain the rental housing stock and assure its safety and habitability for the benefit of owners, tenants, and communities. The fund will provide financing for scheduled, complaint-based, and emergency inspections of rental housing units and for enhancing communications among owners, tenants, and compliance personnel.
(b) Proceeds from grants, donations, contributions, and other sources of revenue that may be provided by statute or by rule may be deposited in the fund. Interest earned on the fund and any balances remaining at the end of a fiscal year shall be retained in the fund.
§ 4642. STATE RENTAL HOUSING REGISTRY; CREATION
(a) The department in consultation with the department of health and the department of housing and community affairs shall establish a state program pursuant to which rental housing units are registered and inspected.
(b) The rental housing registration program shall provide:
(1) A process for owners to register their rental housing units. The owners shall pay an annual registration fee for each rental housing unit and provide basic information about each rental unit. The fee shall be $50.00 per unit per year for the first three years of the program; thereafter, the fee shall be set by the commissioner at an amount sufficient to pay for the program.
(2) Inspections of rental housing units on a schedule as determined by the commissioner by rule.
(3) A procedure for performing inspections based on a health or safety complaint that shall include antiretaliation protection for tenants who request a health or safety inspection.
(4) Education, training, and technical assistance, including written materials, field training, and support for owners and tenants.
(5) A procedure for issuance of a certificate of habitability that indicates that the rental housing unit is in compliance with habitability standards as determined by the department by rule. A copy of the certificate of habitability for each rental housing unit shall be provided to the owner who shall post a copy of the certificate in each unit. The certificate shall include an explanation of the process for initiating a complaint-based inspection.
(6) Mechanisms to assure registration of rental housing units, payment of required fees, timely issuance of compliance orders, and any other mechanisms necessary to achieve the goals of the registration program.
(c) The department shall:
(1) Implement the rental housing registry program as described in subsection (b) of this section by creating a registry of rental housing units, including a registration process with appropriate forms, a procedure and time frame for complaint‑based inspections, a schedule for routine inspections, enforcement procedures against both owners and tenants, as appropriate, and the installation of a computerized registry in a format that uses GIS systems technology to store collected rental housing data.
(2) Within a year after implementation of the registry:
(A) Adopt rules regarding:
(i) Appropriate data to be collected that, to the extent available, includes the following:
(I) The name, if any, 911 address, and GIS coordinates of the building, and the name, address, and telephone number of the owner and manager of the rental housing property.
(II) An appropriate and useful description of the building and rental housing units, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and whether a unit has been adapted for people with disabilities and a description of the accessibility adaptations.
(III) Updated inspection data, including the number, reasons for, and type of inspections performed, the number and description of health or safety violations, a hazard index, dates of compliance, and the date of first issuance and subsequent renewals of the certificate of habitability.
(ii) A definition of “high‑risk” rental housing units.
(iii) Rental housing habitability and safety standards, including existing code provisions that allow reasonable time and alternative methods for compliance, especially in existing units.
(iv) A provision to provide displacement services when an appropriate department or agency of the state orders a tenant to leave a rental unit for serious health and safety code violations that are not caused by or the fault of the tenant. Displacement services include reasonable expenses for temporary housing, moving, and relocation costs that may be charged to the owner of the rental unit or placed as a lien against the rental property.
(v) A prioritized schedule of inspections.
(vi) Any other rule necessary to implement this section.
(B) Develop a list of “high‑risk” rental housing units and implement an appropriate inspection schedule for those units.
(C) Implement a process for delegating responsibility to municipalities to conduct inspections of rental housing and enforce fire, safety, and habitability codes that assure consistency with section 256 of this title.
(D) Coordinate rental housing data with the data collected by the Vermont lead poisoning prevention program.
(E) Assume responsibilities currently designated to the department of health and town health officers for rental housing health code enforcement on or before July 1, 2007. The department of public service may request assessment and recommendations from the department of health and municipal health officers regarding rental housing health code concerns related to garbage, surface sewage, water, and vermin.
(3) Within three years after the creation of the registry, implement:
(A) Processes for conducting owner‑requested, tenant-requested, complaint-based, and emergency inspections.
(B) An outreach and support program to help owners find resources and acquire funding for repairs, improvements, and maintenance of their rental housing units.
(C) An effective system for conducting regularly scheduled statewide rental housing inspections.
Sec. 2. REPORT; DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY; DEPARTMENT
OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY AFFAIRS; DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
On or before October 1 of the third year after the rental housing registration program is in operation, the commissioner of public safety, in cooperation with the department of housing and community affairs and the department of health, shall issue a written report to the general assembly. The report shall include the progress made to implement the program, an evaluation of the effectiveness of the program to date, including information on the rate of registration and registration compliance, the amount of fees collected, the type and extent of the support services provided, enforcement undertaken, and any other information relevant to the effective operation of the program. The report shall also include recommendations for the amount of the annual per‑unit fee to be collected that will assure ongoing financial support of the program, including program enhancements to maintain the goal of assuring habitable, safe, and code-compliant rental housing in Vermont.
Sec. 3. APPROPRIATION; POSITIONS AUTHORIZED; DEPARTMENT
OF PUBLIC SAFETY
(a) There is appropriated in fiscal year 2006 from the general fund to the department of public safety the amount of $300,000.00 to fund the creation of the rental apartment registration program. The annual rental unit fees collected by the department from rental housing owners shall be deposited in the Rental Apartment Habitability Fund and shall be used first to repay the general fund for the initial appropriation of $300,000.00. Thereafter, the fees shall be used to reimburse the department for operating expenses for the program, including rental housing inspections, support, and enforcement activities.
(b) The following positions are authorized in the department of public safety in fiscal year 2006:
(1) One (1) program director, full-time, exempt.
(2) Three (3) administrative assistants, full-time, classified.
(3) One (1) staff attorney, full-time, exempt.
(4) One-quarter (1/4) systems developer, part-time, exempt.
(5) One (1) education and technical assistance specialist, full-time, exempt.
(6) Four (4) housing inspectors, full-time, classified.
Sec. 4. EFFECTIVE DATE
This act shall take effect on passage, and the registry program, the process for registering residential rental units, shall be implemented no later than July 1, 2006.
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street