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BILL AS INTRODUCED 2007-2008

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H.419

Introduced by   Representatives Donovan of Burlington, Aswad of Burlington, Atkins of Winooski, Barnard of Richmond, Brooks of Montpelier, Edwards of Brattleboro, Jerman of Essex, Milkey of Brattleboro, Nuovo of Middlebury, Pearson of Burlington and Pillsbury of Brattleboro

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  Housing; state rental housing program; safety and health; training

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to create within the department of public safety a state rental housing program 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 program will provide uniform and responsive rental housing code inspections, education and training for both property owners and tenants, technical and financial assistance for property owners in their ownership responsibility to help them maintain their rental housing in compliance with the state’s rental housing codes, and enforcement of the provisions of the program and appropriate housing codes.

AN ACT RELATING TO ESTABLISHING A STATEWIDE RENTAL HOUSING PROGRAM 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.  DEFINITIONS

For the purposes of this chapter:

(1)  “Commissioner” means the commissioner of the department of public safety. 

(2)  “Department” means the department of public safety.”

(3)  “GIS” means Geographic Informational Systems.

(4)  “Rental unit” or “rental housing unit” means a dwelling unit as defined in 9 V.S.A. § 4451(3) that is offered for rent.

§ 4642.  RENTAL HOUSING SAFETY AND HABITABILITY FUND;

              ESTABLISHED

(a)  The rental housing safety and habitability fund is established in the state treasury for the purpose of creating a statewide rental unit 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 assure that the safety and habitability of rental housing is maintained for the benefit of owners, tenants, and communities.  The fund will provide financing for scheduled, complaint-based and emergency inspections of rental housing units, the enforcement of orders issued in conjunction with inspections, and 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.

§ 4643.  STATE RENTAL HOUSING PROGRAM; CREATION

(a)  The department in consultation with the department of health and the department of housing and community affairs shall establish a state rental housing program.  Every rental housing unit in the state, unless specifically exempt under this chapter, shall be subject to the requirements of this chapter, including registration and inspection.   

(b)  The state rental housing program shall provide:

(1)  A process for owners to register their rental housing units that requires owners to pay an annual registration fee for each rental housing unit and provide basic information about each rental unit.  The annual registration 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.  A rental unit shall be exempt from the state registration fees if the unit is any of the following:

(A)   Registered pursuant to a municipal housing code program exempted under this section.

(B)  Part of a nursing facility or community care home licensed by the state.

(C)  Located in a university or college dormitory, and the university or college conducts regular and comprehensive inspections of the housing units. 

(2)  Inspections of rental housing units on a schedule determined by the commissioner by rule.

(3)  A procedure for performing inspections based on health or safety complaints, including prohibitions against retaliatory action against tenants who file a complaint or 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 issuing a certificate of habitability when a rental housing unit is determined to be 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.  Beginning July 1, 2009, no rental unit subject to the provisions of this chapter may be offered for rent unless a current valid certificate of habitability has been issued for it.

(6)  Mechanisms to assure registration of all rental housing units, payment of required fees, timely issuance of compliance orders, and collection and maintenance of data acquired through the registration, inspection, issuance of certificates of habitability, complaints filed and any other mechanisms necessary to achieve the goals of the registration program, and clear and specific enforcement and penalty provisions pursuant to section 2738 of this title.

(7)   An exemption from the state program for municipal housing programs organized pursuant to 24 V.S.A., chapter 123 that were in operation at the time the state rental housing program is implemented and fully operational.  This chapter shall not be interpreted to limit or decrease the authority of the exempt municipal housing program in regard to building, housing, and fire safety codes.  A municipal program may lose this exemption if it is determined that any of the following are true:

(A) The habitability and enforcement criteria, including standards for issuing certificates of habitability, are less stringent than those of the state program.

(B)  Regular scheduled inspections of the municipal program are less frequent than those of the state program.

(C)  The municipal program permits rental of units that lack a current certificate of habitability.

(D)  Any other aspect of the municipal program is less stringent than the state program.

(c)  The department shall:

(1)  No later than July 1, 2008, implement the rental housing program as described in subsection (b) of this section, including creation of the database for rental housing units, a process for registration of rental units, appropriate forms, a procedure and time frames for complaint‑based inspections, a schedule for routine inspections, enforcement procedures, including penalties, against both owners and tenants, as appropriate, and the installation of a computerized database of rental housing information in a format that uses GIS technology to store collected rental housing data.  

(2)  Within a year after implementation of the state rental housing program, the commissioner shall:

(A)  Adopt rules that:

(i)  Describe the appropriate data to be collected that, to the extent available, include 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)  Define rental housing habitability and safety standards that reflect existing code provisions.

(iii)  Design reasonable time frames and alternative methods for compliance, especially in existing units.

(iv)  Design appropriate displacement services when a state department or agency orders a tenant to vacate a rental unit because of a serious health and safety code violation that is not caused by or the fault of the tenant.  Displacement services shall 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)  Develop a prioritized schedule of inspections.    

(vi)  Exempt specific types of rental housing units subject to the jurisdiction of municipal housing programs organized pursuant to 24 V.S.A. chapter 123, and units that are subject to regular comprehensive inspections by governmental or quasi-governmental agencies and subject to rent restrictions under provisions of state or federal law from paying all or part of any registration fee.  These may include rental units owned and operated by public housing authorities established pursuant to 24 V.S.A. chapter 113, or “qualified rental units” as defined in 32 V.S.A. § 5404a(a)(6).

(vii)  Any other rule necessary to implement this section.

(B)  Define “high‑risk” rental housing; compile a list of high-risk rental units; and implement an appropriate inspection schedule for those units. 

(C)  Implement a process for delegating responsibility to nonexempt municipalities that seek authority to conduct inspections of rental housing and enforce compliance with orders that result from inspections, including provisions for funding.  

(D)  Coordinate rental housing data with the data collected by the department of health through the Vermont lead poisoning prevention program.

(E)  Assume rental housing health code enforcement responsibilities currently designated to the department of health and municipal health officers.  The department 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)  No later than 2010, implement all the following:

(A)  A program 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)  Regularly scheduled statewide inspections of rental housing by the department or authorized municipality.

Sec. 2.  REPORT; DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY; DEPARTMENT

             OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY AFFAIRS; DEPARTMENT OF                        HEALTH

On or before October 15, 2010, 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 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 describing the operation of the program.  The report shall also include recommendations for the amount of the annual per‑unit fee to be collected sufficient to assure ongoing financial support of the program, including recommendations for program enhancements and changes to maintain the goal of effectively 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 2008 from the general fund to the department of public safety the amount of $300,000.00 to fund the creation of the state rental housing program.  The annual rental unit fees collected by the department from rental housing owners shall be deposited in the rental housing safety and 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 2008:

(1)  One (1) program director, full-time, exempt.

(2)  Three (3) administrative assistant, 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 inspector, full-time, classified.

Sec. 4.  EFFECTIVE DATE

This act shall take effect on passage, and the state rental housing program (the initial registration of residential rental units) shall be implemented no later than July 1, 2008.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us