The Vermont Association of REALTORS® knows that increasing rent control regulations in Burlington will infringe on private property rights – and won’t fix the housing challenges. Through an Issues Mobilization campaign supported by the REALTOR® Party, they presented the message that ultimately resonated with the governor, who vetoed a threatened rent-control ordinance.
In Burlington, Vermont, where renters dominate the housing market at roughly 65%, a ‘just cause’ rent control ordinance was proposed, threatening to require landlords to automatically renew a lease unless a tenant has violated a handful of ‘just cause’ requirements, and to cap allowable rent increases with the renewal of a lease. Given the local housing demographics, opposing the proposal was going to be an uphill battle, but the Vermont Association of REALTORS® couldn’t allow the restrictive measures to pass without a fight. With support from the REALTOR® Party, they managed to influence policy in a way they believe is in the best interests of the state and its residents.
Peter Tucker, VAR’s Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, notes that the REALTORS®’ main opposition to the ordinance was that it would infringe on property owners’ rights to use and rent their property as they see fit. What’s more, he explains, under-building over the past decade is the real root of Burlington’s housing challenges. “Additional rental regulation isn’t going to fix the issue of insufficient affordable housing; in fact, it will only push landlords who can’t afford the rising cost of doing business to sell out, converting their apartments to condos. According to a 2019 report on NPR, San Francisco lost roughly 25% of its rental housing in the first few years after just cause/rent control measures were imposed.”
Prior to the Town Meeting Day when the proposed ordinance was to appear on the ballot, VAR launched an Issues Mobilization campaign targeting Burlington voters with a series of mailings, digital advertising, and live calls explaining why the big-city rent-control policies weren’t a good fit for the small state. When the measure passed, because the proposed ordinance would be a charter change for Burlington, it headed to the state legislature for approval. Despite VAR’s advocacy efforts highlighting the recent history of cities like San Francisco and St. Paul, which experienced severe rental attrition and building permit drop-off in the wake of increasing rent control regulations, both the House and the Senate passed Burlington’s just cause ordinance. Governor Phil Scott, a moderate Republican, however, agreed with the REALTOR® position and exercised his veto power. As the veto-proof majority in the legislature prepared to vote to override the veto, the REALTORS® renewed their lobbying efforts with representatives they knew would be pressured to flip. Says Tucker, “I reached out to a handful of members, who contacted these key representatives and encouraged them to stay the course and sustain the governor’s veto.” The veto was upheld by a single vote. “It was a case of losing some battles but winning the war,” says Tucker.
Though he is a seasoned broker and VAR volunteer, Tucker is new to the association staff; the rent control threat landed on his desk about a month after he started. “I was brand new to the job, but I called the REALTOR® Party team and they were fantastic: the program is great, the delivery was there, and they gave me the advocacy research we needed to say, ‘Here’s what we think and why.’ I highly recommend the Issues Mobilization program.”
To learn more about how the Vermont Association of REALTORS® is working to protect private property rights in a tenant-dominated city, contact Peter Tucker, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802.229.0513.