Illegal Evictions (Lockouts, Shutoffs) and Storage of Belongings
This document answers frequently asked questions about illegal evictions and utility shut-offs.
Can My Landlord Shut off the Utilities in My Home or Apartment?
Can a Landlord Lock out a Tenant?
Can a Landlord Remove My Belongings from My Home While I Am Still Living in It?
Can a Landlord Enter My Home Without My Permission?
Can a Landlord Take or Throw Away Belongings I Have Left Behind after I Have Moved Out?
What Are a Tenant's and Landlord's Rights to the Security Deposit after a Tenant Moves Out?
Sometimes the relationship between an tenant and landlord is unfriendly. Occasionally, a landlord who wants a tenant to leave may try to force the tenant to leave without using the court eviction process. However, there are Vermont laws designed to protect tenants from illegal actions.
NO. It is illegal for a landlord to disconnect the utilities in order to force a tenant to leave the premises. If a landlord disconnects your utilities you may want to: Contact the utility company and tell them what has happened. The utility company may have been told by your landlord that the unit had been vacated. Ask that the utility be reconnected immediately.
Notify the police department, which serves your town, that the landlord has committed an illegal action. The police can contact the landlord and advise him that he must reconnect the utility. Contact the town health officer. It is a health and safety hazard and most likely a violation of the Rental Housing Health Code to reside in a rental unit without utilities such as water and electricity. The town health officer can order the landlord to turn the power back on.
You should talk to a lawyer if you can if your landlord shut off your utilities.
Did your landlord lock you out? You should first ask your landlord to let you back in. A landlord who locks out a tenant is breaking the law. If the landlord refuses to let you in, you may use reasonable force to get in, such as cutting a padlock or forcing open a door or window.
Caution: If a landlord has gone to court and obtained a court order called a "Writ of Possession," the landlord may have the legal right to change the locks after you have been served the Writ by a Sheriff.
You should talk to a lawyer if you can if your landlord has locked you out.
It is illegal for a landlord to move a tenant's belongings out of the rental unit without a court order called a "Writ of Possession." It is also illegal for a landlord to confiscate or deny a tenant access to their belongings due to back rent owed or any other reason.
You should talk to a lawyer if you can if your landlord has removed your belongings without a court order.
Vermont law allows a landlord to enter the rental unit to perform maintenance, repairs, make improvements or show the unit to a prospective tenant only after giving the tenant at least 48 hours advance notice. The landlord is only entitled to enter the unit between the hours of 9:00 am and 9:00 pm for these purposes. Go to our Renters' Right to Have Guests and Exclude Visitors page to learn more.
A landlord may enter a unit without the consent of the tenant only in case of an emergency, when the landlord has a reasonable belief that there is imminent danger to the property or to a person inside. A landlord who fails to follow the law can be liable for damages or even cited for Unlawful Trespass, a criminal offense. A tenant whose privacy has been violated by a landlord should notify the landlord in writing of the law and ask that the landlord provide the correct advance notice that Vermont law requires. A tenant may also have a Sheriff or Constable serve the landlord with a "Notice Against Trespass." Once this is done, any future violations of the law could cause the landlord to be cited for Unlawful Trespass against the tenant.
According to Vermont law, property a tenant leaves behind after moving out of the rental unit is considered abandoned property only if all of the following are true:
- The landlord has good reason to believe that the tenant is no longer living there;
- The rent is not current; and
- The landlord has made a reasonable effort to find out the tenant's intentions.
If a tenant has moved out and leaves behind property the landlord cannot take, give away or dispose of the abandoned property unless:
- The tenant has mailed or hand delivered a written notice to the landlord that the tenant has vacated the premises, or
- The tenant has vacated the premises at the end of the rental agreement.
If the tenant has not given the landlord a notice that the tenant vacated the premises or the tenant did not vacate the premises at the end of the rental agreement, a landlord must put any property left behind in a dry, secure place and keep it for 60 days. The landlord must also send a letter to the tenant's last known address, notifying the tenant that the landlord plans to dispose of the abandoned property if the tenant does not claim it within 60 days from the date the notice is written. If the tenant comes to claim his property within this time the landlord may require that the tenant pay for the cost of storing the property before returning it. If, after 60 days the tenant fails to claim abandoned property the landlord may dispose of it as he or she wishes.
A landlord may not hold a tenant's abandoned property "ransom" for back rent or other money the landlord believes the tenant owes. Reasonable storage costs and related expenses are the only thing a landlord may require a tenant pay to get their property back. A tenant who has been unable to get property back may sue the former landlord for the value of the property. A tenant can sue the landlord in Small Claims court if the value of the tenant's property is $5,000 or less.
A Security Deposit is money a tenant pays a landlord as a deposit until the tenant moves out. Whether the tenant has paid a general security deposit, a separate pet deposit or both, the landlord is entitled to that money only if the tenant has caused damage beyond normal wear and tear, or if the tenant owes rent, unpaid utility charges or expenses related to removing abandoned property from the apartment.
Damage beyond normal wear and tear is damage to the premises caused by the tenant or tenant's guests either intentionally or by carelessness. It is damage, which is greater than what normally occurs, as an apartment is lived in. Examples of damage beyond normal wear and tear may include large dents or holes or other damage to walls, irremovable stains, tears or burns in carpeting, broken windows, etc. Fresh paint, routine maintenance, or the costs upgrading the apartment are not considered costs of normal wear and tear that can be deducted from a tenant's security deposit.
Within 14 days from the date the landlord receives notice that the tenant has moved out of the rental unit, the landlord must either return the full security deposit to the tenant by hand delivering or mailing it to the tenant's last know address, or the landlord must send a letter to the tenant which lists each deduction from the security deposit with a payment to the tenant for whatever money is left after the costs were deducted. To start the 14 day period, the tenant should hand deliver or mail a written notice to the landlord letting the landlord know the date the tenant vacated the premises. If the landlord fails to take either of these steps within the 14 days from the date the landlord becomes aware that the tenant vacated the rental unit, the landlord forfeits his right to keep any of the money and must return the whole deposit to the tenant.
A tenant who does not receive the security deposit or an itemized notice of deductions from the landlord, or a tenant who believes that the landlord wrongfully withheld any part of the security deposit has two options. The tenant may sue the landlord in Small Claims Court to recover the security deposit or, if the apartment the tenant moved out of is in the city of Burlington or Barre, the tenant may either sue the landlord in small claims court or file complaint with their local Housing Board of Review to recover some or all of the security deposit. In some cases, the judge or Housing Board can order the landlord to pay two times the amount of the security deposit, if they find the landlord withheld the security deposit wrongfully.
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