Police Response in Illegal Eviction
and Other Tennant/Landlord Situations
The Following Document is Excerpted
VERMONT STATE POLICE TRAINING BULLETIN NUMBER - 93-1 RULES & REGULATIONS OPERATIONAL POLICIES& PROCEDURES
TRAINING BULLETIN NUMBER - 93-1
LANDLORD/TENANT LAW -9 V.S.A. §4451- §4468
The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that the presence of law enforcement officers, together with their inaction during an illegal eviction violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures and may lead to liability under federal civil rights law. In this case, law enforcement officers who were present at an eviction at the request of the landlord, refused to take the tenant’s complaint for criminal trespass or otherwise interfere with the eviction. The officers informed the tenant that “it was between the landlord and the tenant”. Soldal v. Cook County, Illinois, U.S. Supreme Court, 61 LW 4019 (1993). In making the ruling, the Supreme Court expressed confidence that “police will not often choose to further an enterprise knowing that it is contrary to state law.”
Now, it is more important than ever, that officers responding to landlord/tenant disputes have a basic understanding of the state law which controls this relationship. The following guidelines should be used when responding to landlord/tenant complaints.
A number of reoccurring questions
arise which surround the issue of landlord/tenants’ rights
and police duties. Frequently the landlord
or the tenant will call a police agency
during a dispute and you are then put
in the unenviable position of determining
what course of action, if any, to follow.
The rights and responsibilities of
landlords and tenants are specifically
set out in Vermont statutes; therefore
violation of these statutes may result
in criminal violations of Title 13.
Merely because it is a “landlord/tenant
dispute” does not always mean
that it is a “civil matter’ and
that you should not become involved.
In fact, failure to act may result
in civil liability.
Vermont law prohibits a landlord, under any circumstances, from entering an apartment and evicting the tenant. 9 V.S.A. 4468 states that if a tenant remains in possession of an apartment against the wishes of the landlord, the landlord must bring an action for a writ of possession under 12 V.S.A. Chapter 169, § 4851-4856.
Once a writ of possession is granted to the landlord, 12 V.S.A. §4854 mandates that “the writ shall direct the sheriff of the county in which the property or a portion thereof is located to serve the writ upon the defendant and, no sooner than five days after the writ is served, to put the plaintiff into possession.”
Under this procedure, a landlord may not enter an apartment and move a tenant out. An eviction must proceed through the court system and the writ allowing for eviction must be served by the sheriff; furthermore, the tenant must be actually moved out of the apartment by the sheriff.
The only exception allowing for the landlord to enter the apartment without going through the procedure outlined above occurs when the apartment has been “abandoned” by the tenant. V.S.A. §4462(a) states that a tenant has abandoned a dwelling unit if:
• There are circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to believe that the dwelling unit is no longer occupied as a full-time residence;
• Rent is not current; and
• The landlord has
made reasonable efforts to ascertain
the tenant’s intentions.
Rule of Thumb
If the sheriff is not participating in the eviction, it is most likely an illegal eviction, a violation of Title 13 and you should not allow it to proceed.
If a landlord, without the assistance of a sheriff, enters an apartment in order to evict a tenant, the landlord is in violation of 13 V.S.A., §3705(d), unlawful trespass.
Suggested Course of Action
Freeze the scene, maintain the “status quo”, do not allow the landlord to remove any property or to enter the tenant’s apartment.
Explain the requirements necessary for an eviction to the landlord and refer both the landlord and the tenant to the appropriate referrals contained in the Support Services Directory.
If this is not an “innocent” mistake
on the part of the landlord, issue
a citation. If the landlord persists
contrary to your directions, make an
“Lock Out” of the Tenant
In addition to the prohibition of an actual eviction by the landlord, unless the steps noted above have been taken, Vermont law also prevents a landlord from turning off utility services to an apartment or padlocking or changing the lock to an apartment in order to prevent a tenant from entering the apartment or gaining access to their property. 9 V.S.A. §4463 states as follows:
(a) No landlord may willfully cause, directly or indirectly, the interruption or termination of any utility service being supplied to the tenant, except for temporary interruptions for emergency repairs.
(b) No landlord may directly or indirectly deny a tenant access to and possession of the tenant’s rented or leased premises, except through proper judicial process.
(c) No landlord may directly or indirectly deny a tenant access to and possession of the tenant’s property, except through proper judicial process.
Rule of Thumb
• Because it is illegal
for a landlord to “lock out” a
tenant without judicial authorization,
a tenant who is required to use reasonable
force to re-enter the apartment has
not committed a crime under Title 13.
Suggested Course of Action
• Freeze the scene, explain the prohibitions of Sec. §4463 to the landlord; if the landlord does not relent and allow the tenant to enter the apartment, then your duty is to maintain the peace and allow the tenant to gain entry to the apartment.
Entry by the Landlord in a Non-Emergency Situation
9 V.S.A. §4460 states as follows:
(a) A landlord may enter the dwelling unit with the tenant’s consent, which shall not be unreasonably withheld.
(b) A landlord may also enter the dwelling unit for the following purposes between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. on no less than 48 hours’ notice:
(1) when necessary to inspect the premises;
(2) to make necessary or agreed repairs, alterations or improvements;
(3) to supply agreed services; or
(4) to exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers or contractors.
(c) A landlord may only enter the
dwelling unit without consent or notice
when the landlord has a reasonable
belief that there is imminent danger
to any person or to property.
Rule of Thumb
• Because a landlord
may not, without the consent of a tenant,
enter an apartment except as outlined
above, an entry in violation of this
section meets the criteria for violation
of 13 V.S.A. §3705(d) - Unlawful
Suggested Course of Action
• In response to a
trespass complaint from a tenant, proceed
in the same manner as any other criminal
complaint. Interview the complainant
and the accused and refer the case
to your State’s Attorney for
Theft or Destruction of the Rental Property by the Tenant
9 V.S.A. §4456(c) states:
The tenant shall not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, or remove any part of the premises or its fixtures, mechanical systems or furnishings, or deliberately or negligently permit any person to do so.
Although a security deposit may be used to offset the loss of the property to the landlord, intentional destruction of property or removal of property by the tenant is not necessarily a “civil matter”. Intentional destruction of rental property meets the criteria for violation of 13 V.S.A, §3701 - Unlawful Mischief. (property is defined under this section as both real and personal property. Sec. 370 1(e).) Removing fixtures or furnishings from the apartment with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession meets the criteria for a violation of 13 V.S.A. §2501 or §2502 - Larceny.
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