By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger
Without leases for protection, dozens of renters in Quechee will soon need to find new places to live.
On Friday, Jan. 28, residents of at least 18 units in two Quechee apartment buildings received notice that they must vacate their apartments by April 30. The letters cited “no cause” for the termination.
The properties are owned by MG2, a real estate investment group based in Boston, and were purchased last November. Joe Donovan, vice president of MG2, said 18 of the 22 units at 73 Cross St. and 77 Quechee Hartland Road received notices.
A subsidiary of MG2, Quechee Main II, owns 62 rental units across four properties in Quechee. MG2 did not specify how many renters at its other two properties received notices.
“We were told we’d be getting new leases,” said Chynna Lowe, who had lived in one of the buildings for four years and received a notice. She said she’d spent the last week trying to get the landlord or the property manager — Real Property Management Beacon of Lebanon, New Hampshire — to fix her apartment’s broken heating.
On Friday, when she returned home to find the notice to vacate taped to her door, she gathered with her neighbors, all of whom received the same message.
“We’re all just beside ourselves. We weren’t expecting it,” she said. “And we all have kids. Now we have to move and our kids are going to have to go to different schools.”
Neither Lowe nor the majority of her neighbors had leases; Lowe said the previous landlord would not provide them.
“We remain open to retaining existing tenants under new leases, where possible, provided the tenant is in good standing and satisfies QMII’s standard credit and income requirements,” Donovan said.
When MG2 purchased the properties from former landlord Nicholas Tsouknakis, it noticed deferred maintenance that needed repair, Donovan said. All four properties require maintenance and Donovan said it remains to be seen what repairs can be done without vacating the properties.
The tenants interviewed by VTDigger highlighted extensive maintenance issues they said experienced while renting from Tsouknakis and MG2. Siobhan McCloskey, who did not receive a notice to vacate, said she struggled to get Tsouknakis to fix her broken heating, and Lowe described mold throughout her apartment.
Asked about the claim, Tsouknakis said that “the heat was not really an issue,” but noted that the hot water heater had needed
Vermonters whose landlords repeatedly refuse to make needed repairs do have legal protections depending on the circumstances, Vermont Legal Aid staff attorney Jean Murray said. If a renter requests a repair and is met with a notice to vacate, the eviction may be considered retaliatory and thus void, Murray added.
“We’re hearing a lot about inadequate heat,” she said. “For me, Vermont law isn’t strong enough requiring landlords to make sure that places are insulated.”
Old housing stock in the Upper Valley, coupled with high-income earners working at nearby Dart- mouth College and Dartmouth- Hitchcock Medical Center, make for a particularly tight rental market.
For MG2, those conditions make for what Donovan called a “low-risk housing market.” Renters feel differently.
Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines Housing Trust, an Upper Valley afford- able housing nonprofit, said the rental market is as tight as he’s seen it in the last decade.
“For hourly employees, they’re often finding themselves squeezed by graduate students, by industry professionals at the college and the hospital,” he said. Twin Pines’ subsidized units regularly have waitlists of over 100 people, according to Winter. Last year, the Valley News detailed the purchase of local rental housing by North- ern Stage, a White River Junction nonprofit theater company. The sale drew controversy because it forced out longtime residents.
The Upper Valley needs 10,000 new hous- ing units by 2030 to meet demand, according to a 2020 report from the Lebanon-based Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Plan- ning Commission, the Woodstock-based Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission and the Ascutney-based Mount Ascutney Regional Commission.
Lowe said she realizes the daunting rental market MG2 has forced her into, but she has a more urgent demand in the meantime.
“I can’t get a hold of anybody to help me,” Lowe said. “My daughter couldn’t come home yesterday because I don’t have heat — she had to stay with her dad.”