As the pandemic stretches on, landlords ask for help with tenant troubles

Some tenants are taking advantage of the eviction moratorium, said Burlington lawyer Nadine Scibek, who isn’t working with McPhetres and Mahmood. She told of a tenant in Winooski who refused to leave a home as required after the landlord had a contract to sell the property. The prospective buyers even visited the tenant to ask him to leave, explaining they needed to move in, Scibek said. The tenant didn’t, Scibek said, and the sale didn’t go through.

“This is what I have been getting from some tenants lately: ‘I know you can’t evict me because of this eviction moratorium, and I’m going to sit here and not pay rent and save my money and move when all this is over,’” Scibek said. “He said, ‘If you want to pay me $15,000, I’ll move.’”

Vermont was seeing about 1,750 court-filed evictions each year before the Covid-related moratoriums — about 2% of the state’s estimated 76,000 rental households, said Jean Murray, a Vermont Legal Aid attorney who works with tenants. The number has slowed dramatically since the moratoriums began in March; Murray said between March and August, about 250 new eviction cases were filed — about a third the number normally filed in previous years. 

The state program does contain a provision for eviction when criminal activity is happening in the rental. With their five security cameras trained on the property, Mahmood and McPhetres have been assiduously documenting all activity, and are now on a first-name basis with several members of the South Royalton Police Department, who are called to the rental property — by Mahmood and McPhetres, or by people in the rental — a few times a month.

The film shows there are dogs and visitors in the home, in violation of the now-expired lease. They’ve gotten to know some of the many cars they see on the security cameras and in person.

“A lot of the plates don’t go to the car they are on,” Mahmood said. “You’ll see a truck plate on a car, or the same plate on two to three cars over time.”

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But that doesn’t mean the activity is criminal.  

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