Montpelier, Vt. – On July 2, Governor Phil Scott returned without signature and vetoed S.79, passed on June 24 during the legislative veto session, and sent the following letter to the General Assembly:
Pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution, I am returning S.79, An Act Relating to Improving Rental Housing and Safety, without my signature because I believe this bill would reduce the number of housing options for Vermonters at a time when we are grappling with a critical housing shortage. While we all want safe housing and lodging options for Vermonters and visitors, in my opinion this bill does not accomplish this shared goal.
As you well know, I have repeatedly advocated for improving Vermont’s aging long-term rental housing stock, which is why we used pandemic emergency housing relief and other funds to initiate innovative housing programs like the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program and the Vermont Homeownership Revolving Loan Fund. Fortunately, these programs can move forward despite this veto with the dedicated funding included in the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill.
Most agree we suffer from a critical housing shortage for middle income, low income and homeless Vermonters, but the solution is not more regulation. Instead, we need to invest in new and rehabilitated housing in every corner of our state. We need to lower costs to make housing more affordable and we need to ease complicated and duplicative permitting requirements while we have the funding to grow and improve our housing stock. This is what I have proposed since my first year as governor and I will continue to do so.
S.79 targets all rental units in all types of buildings and dwellings with few exceptions. I believe this will discourage everyday Vermonters from offering their homes, rooms or summer cabins for rent, not as a primary business but as a means to supplement their income so they can pay their mortgage as well as their property taxes.
Adding additional restrictions, costs and hoops to jump through will not only reduce the number of long-term rentals, but also short-term lodging options when we have a surge in tourists, including foliage and ski seasons. Tourists and visitors having more lodging options when deciding where to stay makes Vermont more competitive and helps our economy.
I am willing to work with the Legislature to modernize our statewide life safety inspection model and initiate a long-term rental registry if we include the following provisions:
- First, I would support a rental housing registry for only those buildings which exceed two dwelling units available for rental for more than 120 days per year. This will ensure we are differentiating between those renting a unit merely to support household expenses, and more professional landlords operating a rental business.
- Second, the health safety inspection obligations transferred in S.79 to the Division of Fire Safety are an expansion of DFS fire safety inspection obligations to include health inspections. This also expands the responsibility for health code inspections from a local “complaint-based” system to the mandatory statewide inspection authority of DFS. Further, S.79 takes away the existing discretion of DFS to determine if a violation merits shutting a residence down for rental. Under S.79, one uncorrected health or safety violation will make a unit unavailable. There must be a commonsense risk consideration added.
- I also believe we need more thorough consideration of timelines, resource needs, regulatory flexibility for DFS, training needs for local health officials and impacts on rental housing resources before transferring total oversight to DFS. The bill currently includes five new positions to carry out much of this work. Truly fulfilling the bill’s mandate would require an even more costly expansion of the bureaucracy in the future, which I could not support. Perhaps Senator Brock’s amendment could be considered a bridge to longer-term modernization.
- Third, I ask the Legislature to continue to support the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program and the Vermont Homeownership Revolving Loan Fund, which, again, will move forward with funding from the FY22 budget.
- Finally, I also believe we must work together on Act 250 reforms and permitting, especially in light of our unprecedented housing investments. My Administration will make themselves available at any time over the summer and fall to discuss potential paths forward.
Based on the objections outlined above, I am returning this legislation without my signature pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution.
Philip B. Scott