Beginning a Tenancy

Residential Leases and Rental Agreements

Vermont law does not require a written lease, and you are considered a legal Tenant with or without a lease. Oral rental agreements are as binding as written agreements, but they do not provide written proof of the agreement terms. Vermont Law uses the term “Rental Agreement”, which is defined as “all agreements, written or oral, embodying terms and conditions, concerning the use and occupancy of a dwelling unit and premises."

Three Important Points about Rental Agreements

1. Although it is not a legal requirement, it is better for all parties concerned to have any and all rental agreements in writing.

2. Keep copies of all agreements and store them where they are safe, secure and easy to locate.

3. The landlord cannot enforce a lease provision that takes away any rights the tenant has under the law, even if the tenant agrees to the provision by signing the lease.

Written leases can help to ensure that a landlord and a tenant agree on the terms of the rental, including the amount of rent, when the rent is to be paid, length of the tenancy and who pays for utilities and services. Tenants should always read leases carefully and ask about terms they don’t understand, and should try to get landlords to change or remove lease terms which seem unfair. Never sign a lease until you have read and understand all of it. You can get a lease reviewed by contacting Vermont Tenants. Leases become valid the moment you sign them, not when you move in!

Tenants should always get photocopies of leases and all agreements as soon as the lease is signed. If the landlord does not give you a copy, request it in writing and keep a copy of the letter. Written agreements between roommates regarding financial and other responsibilities can also be helpful in preventing problem.

The rental agreement cannot take away basic rights granted under state, federal, or local laws. Any language that circumvents these laws are considered unenforceable even if the agreement is signed by both parties. An
unenforceable clause does not invalidate the entire lease. Similarly, one party breaking a clause in the lease does not invalidate the entire lease. 9 V.S.A.§4454. For example, a clause that gives the landlord the right to physically evict a tenant or shut off the utilities if rent is not paid on time would be void by law and could not be enforced by the landlord. However, provisions of the lease that are legal would still be valid and could be enforced.

Rental Applications

Landlords may require potential tenants to fill out a rental application. Such applications frequently ask for prior rental history with dates, addresses and landlords, income information and references. There is no law regulating what a landlord may ask on an application, such as social security number and bank account numbers (although a bank will not give out account information without the account holder’s permission). There is also no law prohibiting applications from asking about marital status, family composition, source of income, etc. However, since such information may not be used to discriminate against potential tenants, landlords who ask for it may be vulnerable to a claim of discrimination Landlords may also require potential tenants to agree to a credit check. Landlords may refuse to rent to a tenant who does not supply the requested information, has bad credit or has a poor rental history, but the landlord may not use these reasons as an excuse for illegal discrimination.

Landlords may not charge an application fee. Landlords are prohibited from charging residential tenants a fee in order to apply to rent an apartment. However a landlord may charge the direct cost of a credit check fee to tenants

Security Deposits - What Are They?

A security deposit is any deposit or prepaid rent that is refundable to the tenant when the tenant moves out. Outside of Burlington and Barre, there is no limit on how much the deposit can be. No law, outside of Burlington and Barre, requires that the tenant receive interest on the deposit. A deposit should be used only for damages beyond normal wear and tear, unpaid rent or utility bills owed by the tenant, or to cover expenses for removing belongings left behind after a tenant has moved out. Click here to read about security deposits in more detail.

About Renter’s Insurance

Most landlords have insurance on their buildings, but this insurance does not usually cover a tenant’s personal belongings. Tenants are strongly urged to purchase renter’s insurance to protect their property. It covers not only loss of property due to theft or damage to the dwelling, but also other loses associated with such calamities, including relocation costs, cleaning bills, temporary housing, etc. Renter’s insurance is generally not too expensive. A comprehensive policy is available from most insurance agencies at a relatively affordable cost. Tenants who already have car insurance can often get renter’s insurance through the same company as a package for very little extra. It is highly recommended that ALL tenants buy renter’s insurance.

Motels and Similar Housing

After a person has occupied any room or rooms in a motel or similar establishment for at least thirty (30) consecutive days, (the period in which “rooms and meals tax” must be paid to the state by the owner) the “guest” status of the person ends and a landlord/tenant relationship comes into effect. Occupancy in a room or rooms in such an establishment of over thirty consecutive days will not necessarily create a month-to-month tenancy— it would most commonly become a week to week tenancy. However it is important to note that a thirty consecutive day occupancy period does give the former “guest” the same rights of any residential tenant, including the right to proper legal notice for termination and a judicial eviction process