Burlington’s Housing Board of Review is the Closest City Commission to Being a Renters’ Friend

My research shows that the Housing Board of Review ends in a favorable outcome for tenants 77% of the time, and I believe that if the Housing Board of Review tweaked a few of their requirements, put some money into education and outreach, the number of cases, and % that tenants win cases, would climb even higher.

Although information on the city’s website is fairly limited (someone may want to talk to our ‘transparency Mayor’ about that one), the data shows that when tenants bring deposit cases in front of landlords they are very likely to win a decent amount of their stolen money back from their landlord. One has to wonder how many landlords build into their budget that they will always keep their tenants’ security deposits.

Of the nearly 100 cases available online, tenants won 77 of them. 4 of those winning cases, or 5%, won double their requested amount for willfully withholding a deposit, and for 2 of those cases, tenants didn’t know that they could represent their roommates, so only 1 tenant won, meaning the landlord stole upwards of $2,000 from the other tenants.

Of the 22 cases lost, 6, or 1/4th, were lost because tenants didn’t know their rights and either didn’t show up or didn’t file within the limited 44 day window.

What needs to change to make the Housing Board of Review a more effective bulwark against thieving landlords?

  1. Better outreach.
    The board sees around 60 deposit disputes a year. In a city with 10,000 units of rental housing, that number is abysmal.
  2. Make it clearer to tenants that other people can represent them at the Housing Board of Review.
    If people understood their rights better, that they could have someone represent them, many more college students who move away could be better represented.
  3. Allow more than 44 days for tenants to bring complaints, at minimum an entire year.
    This is thousands of dollars, sometimes a tenants’ entire savings being stolen from them with little recourse. 44 days is not enough time, especially if someone has trouble finding a new apartment/new job etc.
  4. Make it easier to win double for withholding deposits.
    As more tenants come before the board, and we have more data about which landlords are keeping deposits, we should make it easier for tenants to win back double. Landlords should be conservative withholding deposits and should be punished when they continue to do so.