Burlington to change city ordinance to better protect the rights of tenants and crime victims
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BURLINGTON—The ACLU and the City of Burlington have settled a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Joseph Montagno, who was evicted from his apartment in 2016 after the City complained he was calling for police assistance “too frequently.” The terms of the settlement include substantive changes to the city ordinance that led to the eviction, as well as a $30,000 compensatory payment to Mr. Montagno.
ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “Mr. Montagno is thrilled to have won important changes to Burlington’s ordinances that will provide due process for tenants and protections for victims of crime, ensuring that vulnerable people in Burlington will no longer lose their housing simply because they need police assistance.”
In the settlement agreement, the City agrees to introduce amendments to its laws to provide written notice to tenants when it communicates with a landlord about suspending their occupancy certificate; give tenants an opportunity to challenge the suspension of an occupancy certificate; ensure landlords are not encouraged to evict tenants, except as a last resort; and provide new protections for crime victims and residents seeking police assistance.
James Lyall, Executive Director of the ACLU of Vermont: “This settlement is an important step towards creating a state and a city that works for everyone, and where no one is punished for asking for help. The ACLU remains committed to working with the City on efforts to enhance public safety while respecting constitutional rights.”
Joseph Montagno is a life-long Vermonter and ten-year resident of Burlington who as of 2016 had resided in the same Burlington apartment for several years. At that address, he experienced recurring safety concerns. His apartment was vandalized and burglarized and he received threats from a neighbor.
Mr. Montagno and others repeatedly called the police to request assistance. Burlington police started tracking the number of calls for police help from Montagno and other tenants in the building, then classified Montagno as a “frequent caller” and deemed the tenants calling for help “public nuisances.”
Then, without notifying Mr. Montagno, City officials contacted his landlord and threatened that unless “appropriate remedial action” was taken, the landlord’s occupancy certificate would be revoked. Montagno’s landlord immediately moved to have him evicted, and as a result, Montagno experienced several months of homelessness.
The ACLU has successfully challenged similar laws around the country, which disproportionately impact victims of crime—particularly survivors of domestic violence—people of color, and individuals suffering from mental illness. Those problems were highlighted in a 2016 letter signed by Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and 27 other Senators to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calling for written guidance to cities and landlords. HUD then adopted guidance calling for the abolition of such ordinances to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act and the protection of crime victims.
Joseph Montagno: “I can’t express how grateful I am to the organizations and individuals who stood up for me. I’m so glad they are out there making sure that situations like mine are not swept under the rug, and supporting people who could use a hand. I also want to thank the City for agreeing to change. Burlington is my home and I care about it. I’m glad I could play a part in making it a little better.”
The settlement agreement in Joseph Montagno v. City of Burlington is available here:https://www.acluvt.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/montagno_settlement_agreement_-_2017-10-31.pdf