The House General & Housing Committee took up H.378 on Wednesday, which would create an Office of the Housing Advocate to assist landlords, tenants, and homeowners with housing-related questions by providing information, referrals and assistance to individuals about obtaining or providing housing services.
Representative Andriano, the sponsor, presented the bill to the Committee. He modeled the concept after former representative Michael Fisher's position as chief health care advocate within the Vermont legal aid department. Andriano explained he was an attorney at a law firm for years representing landlords and noted that there was a lot of confusion regarding laws protecting both tenants and landlords
Just like the health advocate position, he envisions this position to be outside of state government to allow for more independence. The bill proposes the Department of Housing shall maintain the office by contracting with a non-profit organization to perform the services outlined in the bill. The bill allows the Chief Housing Advocate to employ legal counsel, administrative staff, and other employees and contractors as may be needed.
Duties included assisting landlords, tenants and homeowners with housing-related questions by providing information, referrals, and assistance to individuals in regards to obtaining or providing housing services. They also would investigate and resolve complaints on behalf of individual landlords, tenants, and homeowners. As such, they would pursue administrative, judicial, and other remedies on behalf of any clients. Additionally they would analyze and monitor the development and implementation of laws, rules, and policies.
The bill also contains a section on the duties of state agencies, which grants the Department of Housing the ability to adopt rules necessary to ensure the cooperation with state agencies.
There is also a section on conflicts of interests and confidentiality…
Andriano noted two outstanding problems:
1. Funding, which could be similar to the Health Care Advocate position.
2 Potential conflicts with landlords being part of the process.
The Health Care Advocate has a five-person department. The Committee was curious what the Housing Advocacy Office would look like from a staffing perspective, and what kind of funding it would need. Andriano didn’t have a specific responses to either question. The Committee agreed they needed to discuss this further to see whether they would want to pursue it or not.