This page provides general information about evictions in most residential rental situations. Some cities, such as Burlington and Barre, have other laws you should know about. Rentals that are part of Section 8 or other state or federal subsidy programs also have additional requirements. Every case is unique, and a lawyer can help you figure out what you need to know for your case. Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, talking to a lawyer about your case will help you make the best decisions. If you are a tenant, you may be eligible for free or low cost legal services. Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, you should read all the information on this page.

For Landlords: Starting an Eviction

The process of evicting a tenant varies depending on the reason or "ground" for the eviction. Before you file an eviction case in court, you are legally required to give the tenant written notice that you are terminating, or ending, the tenancy. If the tenant does not leave voluntarily, you need a court order to evict them. You may not change the locks or remove their things without a court order.

Grounds for eviction

Grounds for eviction include the following:

  • The tenant has not paid rent
  • The tenant is in breach of the rental agreement
  • The property has been sold and there is no written rental agreement
  • The tenant has subleased without permission, and there is a written lease forbidding subtenants

You do not need a cause to evict under these circumstances:

  • There is no written rental agreement
  • The end date of a written rental agreement has passed
  • The person rents a room in your home and shares common living spaces (kitchen, living room, bathroom)

Notice Requirements

Before you can file an eviction case in court, you must give the tenant written notice in one of the following ways:

  • Hand-deliver it to the tenant.
  • Send it by first class mail to the tenant's last known address. The court will presume that the tenant got the notice three days after you mailed it, but the tenant may prove that they did not receive it.
  • Send it by certified mail. You will need the receipt from the post office showing when the tenant signed for the delivery.

The notice must clearly state the date the tenant must leave. This is the termination date, or end date, of the tenancy. If the tenant does not leave by this date, you can go to court to evict the tenant.

The amount of notice you must give before the end date depends on the reason or reasons you are terminating the tenancy. Some cities (such as Burlington and Barre) require more notice, so you need to check your local laws. Vermont’s landlord-tenant statute lists the statewide notice requirements for various kinds of cases. Read this statute carefully to make sure you give the tenant at least the notice you are required to give based on the reason or reasons for eviction.

You can give the tenant more than one written notice listing different grounds, or end dates. But if the notices create confusion, or if they don’t meet the law’s requirements, they may not be valid. Talk to a lawyer if you plan to use more than one notice.

Drafting and Filing a Complaint in Court

If the tenant does not leave the rental property by the end date, you can start an eviction case. You cannot file the complaint until after the end date listed in your notice to the tenant.

To start a case, you must file a complaint with the court. In that complaint, you can ask for an eviction order. You must file your complaint no more than 60 days after the end date listed in your notice to the tenant.

You will be the plaintiff and the tenant will be the defendant.

Drafting the Eviction Complaint

You should list every piece of information in your complaint in a separate numbered paragraph.

In your complaint, you should state:

  • The address of the property
  • The name of the tenant (or tenants)
  • The date the tenant began renting
  • Whether the agreement is written or oral
  • The rental amount and when payments are due
  • A description of any other parts of the agreement that are relevant to your claims in this case
  • The ground or grounds for the eviction
  • When and how you gave the tenant the required notice
  • Any other information to support your claim

You should attach:

  • A copy of the lease, if it is written
  • A copy of the notice you have the tenant
  • Proof that the tenant received the notice, if you have any (such as a return receipt for certified mail signed by the tenant).

In your complaint, you can ask the court for an eviction order. You can also ask for anything else you think you are entitled to (such as a judgment for past due rent).

Make sure to sign and date your complaint.

Filing the Eviction Complaint and Requesting a Summons

To start your case, you must file your complaint in the civil division of the superior court and get a summons signed by the court.

You can file in person at the court, or by mail. Here are the steps in the process:

  • Pay the filing fee
  • When you file your complaint, be sure to include your filing fee, complaint, and any attachments
  • Ask the court to give you a signed summons
    (100-00268)
  • Be sure to keep copies of your complaint and any attachments.

Motion to Pay Rent Into Court

If your tenant owes you rent, you can ask the court to order your tenant to make rental payments to the court. You can do this by filing a Motion to Pay Rent Into Court. The court will usually hold that money until the case is done.

You can file this motion along with your complaint, or you can do it at a later time.

You should include a signed affidavit that states the facts that support your motion. You should explain:

  • Your agreement with the tenant about the tenant's duty to pay rent
  • When and how much the tenant has paid
  • When the last payment was made, and
  • How much the tenant is behind in rent

The court will schedule a rent escrow hearing and will send you a notice of the date and time of that hearing. If the tenant has not yet filed an answer with the court, it is your responsibility to have the sheriff serve the hearing notice to the tenants. (This is discussed next.)

If the court orders the tenant to make payments to the court, and the tenant does not pay, you may be entitled to a judgment for immediate possession. This can only happen if the tenant has received a copy of the court’s order.

Serving the Complaint

After you file your complaint and attachments, the court will send them to you or give them back to you. The complaint will have a docket number at the top. Use this number any time you file documents with the court. The court will also give you a signed summons.

The last step to starting an eviction case in court is to have the documents served on the tenant. You usually need to have them served by sheriff or constable.

You should have the sheriff serve the following documents:

  • Summons
  • Complaint with the same attachments that you gave to the court
  • Blank Self-Represented Notice of Appearance form:
  • If you file a Motion to Pay Rent Into Court with your complaint, or at any time before the tenant files an answer, you must also serve that motion and the court’s notice of a hearing on the tenant.

You will have to pay the sheriff to serve the documents. The cost will depend in part on how many miles the sheriff must drive. The sheriff may ask for a deposit to cover the fee.

You can save money by working with a sheriff or a constable located near the tenant. You can find the contact information for every sheriff in the state online. There is no online list of contact information for all the constables in Vermont.

If you want to mail the documents to the sheriff, call the sheriff in advance to find out how to do that. Sheriffs all have their own processes. You can also take the documents to the sheriff in person.

Once the sheriff serves the documents on the defendant (the tenant), they will send you a Return of Service which lists the documents the sheriff served and the amount the sheriff charged. You must file this Return of Service with the court.

The documents must be served within 60 days of the date you filed your complaint. If you are also serving a Motion to Pay Rent into Court and a notice of that hearing, it must be served at least 10 business days before the hearing. It is your responsibility to keep track of these deadlines and make sure that the sheriff serves the documents in time. If a deadline is coming up and the sheriff has not served the documents, you may ask the court for an extension.

For Tenants: Answering an Eviction Complaint and Rent Escrow Motion

Filing Your Answer

If you are served with a complaint for eviction, you have 20 days to file a response with the court. You should also send a copy to the landlord. If you do not file an answer, the court may give your landlord a default judgment.

Even if you go to court for a rent escrow hearing, you must still file an answer. If you go to a rent escrow hearing before your answer is due, you have another 14 days after that hearing to file your answer.

Your response must include an answer, which is your response to the landlord’s claims. It should also include any affirmative defenses and counterclaims. If you are representing yourself, you should also file a Self-Represented Notice of Appearance:

The Vermont Law Help website has an answer form you can use, and instructions for completing the form.

Answer

An answer is your legal response to the complaint filed in court. It tells the court whether you agree that the landlord’s claims are true.

In your answer:

  • Label it "Answer."
  • Go through each paragraph of the landlord's complaint by number. State whether you agree or disagree with the landlord's claim in that paragraph. If you do not know, you can say that.
  • State in your answer what you are asking the court to do.

Affirmative Defenses

An affirmative defense is a reason your landlord may not be able to evict you or claim damages against you. If you have any defenses, you should list them as defenses in your answer.

Vermont Law Help offers more detailed information about what you would need to prove each of these defenses. List only defenses (or check only the boxes) that apply to your case. Defenses may include the following:

  • The landlord did not give you the correct legal notice before starting the court case
  • The conditions in the property are unsafe and unhealthy
  • The landlord started the eviction process after you complained
  • The landlord violated fair housing laws
  • The landlord said you could stay
  • You offered to pay all the past due rent but the landlord refused it
  • You paid the rent, and your landlord said you could stay

Counterclaims

Counterclaims are claims that you want to make against your landlord for violating the legal duties. In other words, you are suing your landlord back. Examples of counterclaims are that your landlord:

  • Illegally retaliated against you
  • Violated fair housing laws
  • Evicted you illegally by shutting off utilities without your permission or changing your locks without a court order allowing that
  • Discriminated against you in a way that violates fair housing laws
  • Destroyed some of your property

List every fact that supports one or more of your counterclaims in a separate numbered paragraph. If you make counterclaims, you should state what you are asking the court to do. (For example, order the landlord to pay money, or order the landlord to turn on the utilities). If you prove your counterclaims, the court may order the landlord to pay you for damages.

Vermont Law Help offers a form for filing counterclaims and more detailed information about what you would need to prove various counterclaims.

Filing Fee (only if you file one or more counterclaims)

If you make counterclaims, you will have to pay a filing fee. If you receive public assistance, are on a fixed income or have a low paying job, you can ask the court to waive the filing fee. This is called an Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs. If you qualify and the court approves your application, you won’t have to pay the fee.

Notice of Appearance

Your landlord should have included a Notice of Appearance form in the packet the sheriff served on you. You should use this if you are not represented by a lawyer. This form tells the court that you are representing yourself. It also gives the court your contact information. If you move, you must give the court and the landlord your new address so that you get any other papers related to the case.

Signing, Certifying and Filing

You should sign and write the date on every paper that you complete. That includes your answer, notice of appearance, any counterclaims, and any application to waive the filing fee.

Include your mailing address and a phone number on every paper you file. If the court cannot get in touch with you, you may miss important deadlines or hearings and lose your case.

You must give every paper you file with the court to the other parties in your case. To prove that you have done this, you must file a Certificate of Service with every paper you file in court.

The Certificate of Service must:

  • Certify that the document has been given to every other party
  • Say how it was given (e.g. mail or personal delivery)
  • State the name and address of each person or entity served
  • State the date of the mailing or others means of delivery

Responding to a Motion to Pay Rent into Court

If your landlord files a motion asking the court to require you to pay rent into court, you should respond to that as well. The court will schedule a rent escrow hearing with as little as 10 days notice.

Be sure to go to court for the hearing! This is your chance to explain to the court if you disagree with what the landlord is saying. You can also ask the judge for extra time to pay. And you may be able to work things out with the landlord.

If you don't go to the hearing, the judge will probably issue an order for you to pay rent to the court. If you miss a payment to the court, you can be evicted within five business days without any trial.

For Landlords: Responding to Counterclaims

If the tenant files counterclaims against you, you should file with the court an answer to those counterclaims.

Go through the numbered paragraphs of the tenant's counterclaims one by one. State whether you agree or disagree with the facts stated in each one. You can also say that you don't know. If the tenant has not numbered the paragraphs of the counterclaims, state which of the tenant's statements you believe are true, and which you believe are not true.

You must give every paper you file with the court to the other parties in your case. That includes your response to the tenant's counterclaims. To prove that you have done this, you must file a Certificate of Service with every paper you file in court.

The Certificate of Service must

  • Certify that the document has been given to every other party
  • Say how it was given (e.g. mail or personal delivery)
  • State the name and address of each person or entity served
  • State the date of the mailing or others means of delivery.
For Landlords and Tenants: Rent Escrow Hearing and Order

In many cases, along with the complaint, the landlord files a motion asking the court to order the tenant to pay rent into court. In those cases, the rent escrow hearing is usually the first time the landlord and tenant go to court.

It can be the last time they go to court if one of the following happens:

  • The landlord and tenant reach an agreement that settles the case.
  • The court orders the tenant to pay rent into court. If the tenant fails to do that, the court may issue an order returning the property to the landlord without another hearing.
  • The tenant pays the landlord all the money owed for back rent plus the filing fee and any fees the landlord paid the sheriff. If the eviction is based on failure to pay rent, that may end the case.

Rent Escrow Hearing

Be sure to go to court for the hearing! If you are the tenant, this is your chance to tell he court whether you disagree with what the landlord is saying. You can also ask the judge for extra time to pay. And you may be able to work things out with the landlord.

If you don’t go to the hearing, the judge will probably issue an order for you to pay rent to the court. If you miss a payment to the court, you can be evicted within five business days without any trial.

Both landlord and tenant should be prepared to prove their claims. For example:

  • If you are a landlord and you say the tenant is behind on rent, bring copies of the rental agreement and payment records. Have enough copies to share with the tenant and the court.
  • If you are a tenant and say that you have fully paid your rent, bring copies of canceled checks and other documents to prove it. Have enough copies to share with the landlord and the court.
  • If you are a tenant and say that you are withholding rent because of significant defects on the property, bring evidence to prove it, such as photos of dangerous conditions.
  • If you are a landlord and have been cited for building code violations, bring a building inspector to testify as a witness.

Your own statements under oath can count as proof as long as they are based on your firsthand knowledge. You can’t prove that something is true by testifying that someone else told you that it was.

If you are a tenant, you can ask the court to choose a payment due date that makes sense given your own payday.

Rent Escrow Order

If the court issues a rent escrow order, you can ask the court to modify it.

For example,

  • If you are a landlord, you can file a motion asking the court to give you all or part of the funds paid into the court. You need to show that you are in danger of losing the premises or face other hardship because the court is holding the rental income. You should file an affidavit to explain this.
  • If you are a tenant, you can file a motion asking the court to reduce the amount you are ordered to pay, or change the due date. You should file an affidavit explaining why the court should grant your request. As with any papers you file with the court, you should include your phone number and mailing address. That way the court can contact you if it schedules a hearing on your motion.
Tenants:

Follow the court’s order closely. You must pay the rent exactly as ordered, both in time and amount. If you don't, the landlord can get a Writ of Possession from the court. That allows the sheriff to remove you within five business days of when the sheriff serves you with the writ.

Landlords:

If the tenant does not pay what the court ordered, when the court ordered it, you can request a Writ of Possession from the court. You must show that each tenant was served with a copy of the order to pay rent into court. You can show that the tenant signed for a copy after the rent escrow hearing, or you can have the sheriff or constable serve the court’s order.

If the court issues a writ, you must give it to a sheriff or constable to serve on the tenant. No sooner than 5 business days after the sheriff serves the order, you can work with the sheriff to arrange to take back the property.

For Landlords and Tenants: Motions and Trials

After the landlord files a complaint and the tenant answers, the court usually sets a hearing. That gives both sides a chance to give the court their information about the case.

Sometimes, before a trial occurs, the landlord files a Motion for Summary Judgment or a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. If you are a tenant, you should file a written response to this motion with the court. If you don’t, the judge may decide the case based on the landlord’s motion without having a trial. You have 18 days to respond to most motions, and 30 days to respond to a motion for summary judgment.

Unless someone files a motion, the court will set the case for a trial. This is different from the rent escrow hearing. It is a trial. Both sides should be prepared to prove their cases. Here is more information on preparing for court hearings in general.

The court will decide:

  • Whether the tenant can be evicted
  • Whether the tenant owes money to the landlord
  • Whether the landlord owes money to the tenant
  • Any other issues either side raised

The court may decide at the hearing, or it may send a written decision some time afterward.

For Landlords and Tenants: Eviction Orders

For Landlords: Serving the Eviction Order, Disposing of a Tenant's Belongings, and Security Deposits

Serving the Eviction Order

If the court issues a Writ of Possession returning the property to you, you must give it to a sheriff or constable to serve on the tenant. No sooner than 10 business days after the sheriff serves the order, you can work with the sheriff to arrange to take back the property. (This is different from a Writ of Possession after the tenant violates a rent escrow order. In that case, the waiting period after service is only 5 days.)

Just because the court has decided in your favor does not mean that you can retake your property on your own if the tenant has not left.

Disposing of the Tenant's Belongings

You may dispose of any belongings remaining on the property on the later of these two dates:

  • 15 days after the writ of possession is served
  • When you legally retake possession (working with the sheriff)

Security Deposits

You have 14 days to mail or hand-deliver a letter and any refund of part or all of the security deposit due to the tenant. Your letter must itemize any deductions you took from the security deposit. Mail the letter and refund to the tenant's last known address.

If you don't meet the deadline, you may lose the right to keep any part of the security deposit. If your failure is willful, you may be liable to the tenant for the following:

  • Double the amount wrongly withheld
  • Reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

The 14-day period starts:

  • The day you discover that the tenant has vacated or abandoned the dwelling
  • The day the tenant vacates, provided you received notice from the tenant of that date

If the property is rented for seasonal use and not intended as a primary residence, you have 60 days to return the security deposit.

You can keep all or part of the security deposit for:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear, unless the damage is the result of events beyond the tenant's control
  • Nonpayment of utility or other charges the tenant was required to pay
  • Removing belongings abandoned by the tenant

After deducting any such expenses, you should return any remaining balance of the security deposit to the tenant. If you are not returning the entire security deposit, you still must send a letter to the tenant's last known address itemizing the deductions from the security deposit.

If the damage to the rental property costs more to fix than the amount of the deposit, you can pursue more payment from the tenant.

Some cities and towns have additional requirements relating to security deposits. Check your local laws.

For Tenants: Vacating the Property, Your Belongings, and Security Deposits

Vacating the Property

If you do not leave on your own as ordered by the court, the sheriff will serve a Writ of Possession on you. No sooner than 10 business days later, the sheriff can forcibly remove you. When the sheriff serves you the writ of possession, you may be able to arrange the date you are leaving.

Your Belongings

If you leave belongings behind, the landlord may be able to get rid of them on the later of these two dates:

  • 15 days after the writ of possession is served
  • When the landlord legally retakes possession (working with the sheriff)

The landlord can deduct the cost of disposing of your belongings from your security deposit.

Security Deposit

Your landlord has 14 days to mail or hand-deliver to you a letter and any refund of part or all of the security deposit due to you. That letter should include an itemized list of all deductions the landlord took from the security deposit.

Be sure to keep your landlord up to date on your current address so that your landlord knows where to send the letter and money.

The 14-day period starts:

  • The date you vacate if you give your landlord notice of that date, or
  • The date your landlord discovers that you have vacated or abandoned the property

If the rental property is rented for seasonal use and not as a primary residence, your landlord has 60 days to return the security deposit. To get your deposit back as soon as possible, notify your landlord of the date you have vacated.

If the landlord doesn't meet this deadline, the landlord cannot keep part of the deposit. If the landlord's failure is willful, (on purpose), your landlord may be required to pay you the following:

  • Double the amount wrongly withheld by the landlord
  • Attorney's fees and costs

Your landlord can keep all or part of the security deposit for:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear, unless the damage is the result of events beyond the tenant's control
  • Nonpayment of utility or other charges you were required to pay
  • Removing belongings you abandoned

The landlord may deduct these expenses from the deposit. Then the landlord should return to you any remaining balance of the security deposit. Even if the landlord does not return any part of the security deposit, your landlord must still send a letter itemizing the deductions.

If the damage to the rental property costs more to fix than the amount of the deposit, the landlord can pursue more payment from you.

Some cities and towns have additional requirements relating to security deposits. Check your local laws.

More Information: Mobile Homes, Farm Employee Housing, and Other Information

Mobile Homes

Mobile home parks follow laws that are different than regular rental laws. For information about those laws:

Farm Employee Housing

Special rules apply for housing provided as a benefit of farm employment. They are listed in the Vermont Statutes at 9 V.S.A. 4469a.

Other Information For Landlords and Tenants

For more complete information read Renting in Vermont Handbook for Tenants and Landlords, produced by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

To see the landlord/tenant law itself, read Vermont’s statute on Residential Rental Agreements and the statute describing court procedure for eviction cases.

Tenants can also find more information at Vermont Law Help.