Frequently Asked Questions
We’re Here to Help.
Here are some answers to questions to commonly asked questions when prospective clients first contact us. The answers given here do not constitute legal advice, since all situations are unique. Rather, these answers are exclusively educational in nature.
Please contact our office if you’d like to discuss any of these answers as they specifically relate to your case.
If my tenant isn’t paying rent and I want him or her to move out, can I do things myself to force him or her out, like change the locks, remove belongings, or have the utilities cut off?
No, absolutely not. Engaging in “self-help” eviction in Vermont is strictly unlawful and landlords can even be criminally prosecuted for doing these things. There is a process for eviction, involving certain notice requirements and court procedures, that must be followed.
If my landlord plans to evict me, how much notice am I entitled to as a tenant?
It depends on the grounds, or reason, for the eviction. If you’re being evicted for failure to pay rent, you are only entitled to 14 calendar days’ notice, in writing. But if the eviction is on other grounds, such as violation of a lease provision or no-cause, the notice periods can range from 30 days to 90 days, depending on how long you have lived in the dwelling. All notices to evict must be in writing and give the specific grounds and the exact notice period, with a date certain to vacate.
Can landlords/owners go into the dwelling whenever they want to inspect or make repairs?
Mostly no, because tenants are entitled to “quiet enjoyment” of their dwellings. In general, landlords must give tenants a certain number of hours’ advance notice of their intent to enter, and such entry may only take place between certain daytime hours. If however, there is an emergency that would cause damage to the property, the landlord may enter without notice, but must limit him or herself to activities in connection with the emergency only.
If my tenant vacates the dwelling and leaves his or her personal belongings there, as the landlord, may I dispose of those items?
You may do so, but only after taking certain steps. The landlord must give written notice to the former tenant that the items will be kept in a safe, secure and dry location for a certain number of days and if not claimed within that period, will be disposed of. If the landlord has to pay for storage, he or she may charge the tenant for it before releasing the items.
Under what circumstances can my former landlord keep my security deposit?
Landlords can withhold security deposits in part or in whole, if there is back rent due, or if there are damages to the dwelling that go beyond normal wear and tear. The landlord is required to send the former tenant written notice of withholding, and provide an itemized description of the amounts, within a specified period of time.
As a tenant, can I legally withhold rent payments from my landlord?
In some cases, you may withhold rent, usually when there are “habitability” issues in the dwelling, meaning health or safety hazards or lack of heat and water. But in order to be justified in withholding rent, you must inform your landlord of the problem and give him or her a chance to fix it. Paying rent is a fundamental, basic responsibility of being a tenant, so we suggest discussing how to go about withholding rent with an attorney before taking that course of action.
If I’m charged with a crime in state court in Vermont, what is the first thing that will happen?
Typically, you will be given a “citation” to appear in court on a certain date and time, with the name of the offense. That first court appearance is called an “arraignment” and usually lasts only 5 or 10 minutes. At that arraignment, your lawyer stands beside you before the judge and states that you have received the charging documents and are entering a plea of not guilty. At this time, the judge will decide which conditions of release you will be subject to pending the resolution of your case.
After I’m charged with a crime, should I talk to the police?
The answer is almost always a resounding no. If any law enforcement officer tries to talk to you about your case, politely decline to discuss, and refer that officer to your lawyer. In fact, if you are a suspect in a criminal case, even before being charged, you should almost never talk to the police without your lawyer present. You have the right to remain silent under the U.S. Constitution—exercise that right!
I’ve been cited for driving under the influence (DUI), what is the next step?
If you’ve been cited for a DUI, the first critical step is for you to mail in your notice that you are contesting the case. The officer who stopped you gives you some paperwork and among those documents are the document stating that you plan to contest. It must be mailed in to the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles by a certain deadline. Do not overlook this step, because if you don’t mail it in, your license to drive will likely be automatically suspended even if you are pleading not guilty to the DUI in court.
How do I know if my criminal case will be resolved by a trial or a plea agreement?
At the beginning of your case, you almost never know this. At and after your initial hearing (arraignment), the State’s Attorney will disclose to your lawyer all the evidence the State intends to use against you if there was a trial. Together, you and your lawyer review that evidence to assess whether the State will be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury or judge. Only after reviewing the evidence and conducting any necessary investigation should you (with your lawyer’s help) decide to have a trial or enter a plea. At this firm, we proceed, at least initially, on the assumption that you will have a trial.
What should I do or not do if an officer stops me while driving?
Always be polite. Provide your license and registration upon request. Do not exit the vehicle unless given permission to by the officer. Be aware that you are not required to answer any questions posed by a law enforcement officer and it is almost always better not to. Politely state that you decline to answer any questions at this time.
I have a criminal record. Is it possible to get my convictions cleaned up, or expunged?
In many cases, yes! In Vermont, you may petition the Court to expunge, or wipe clean, certain qualifying offenses after a certain period of time has passed. “Qualifying crimes” include most misdemeanors and four felonies. (In State, not federal court). In 2019, the Vermont legislature expanded the number of qualifying crimes eligible for expungement and eliminated filing fees for almost all of them. For assistance with expungement petitions, call our office or attend one of the Expungement Clinics regularly held around the State. For an excellent summary of the expungement process, with more details, visit the Vermont Legal Aid website.
Other Legal Questions
Does your firm represent municipalities?
Yes! In fact, one of us is a former Vermont Town Clerk and Treasurer and therefore has a good understanding of the many legal issues that can crop up in town governance. As of publication, this firm represents five municipalities throughout the Northeast Kingdom, in matters ranging from tax sales to tax appeals to drafting of ordinances and lots more!
If I need to file a lawsuit in civil court to resolve a dispute, will I get my attorney’s fees back from the opposing side?
In most cases, generally, no. In Vermont, as in most other states, the parties to a lawsuit are responsible for their own attorney fees, no matter who prevails. It’s known as the “American Rule.” There are a few exceptions, however: in some kinds of disputes, there are specific statutes which allow for attorney’s fees. And in some contract disputes, there are provisions in the contract language that allow for recovering attorney’s fees. Finally, in rare cases, if a judge finds that a party has acted frivolously in filing the lawsuit, attorney’s fees can be recovered. But In general, no party to a lawsuit should count on getting attorney’s fees back. It’s one of the reasons to think very carefully about lawsuits, which are expensive and time-consuming.
I think I’ve been wrongfully terminated from my job. Can I sue my employer?
Yes and no. If you think you have been discriminated against on the basis of your gender, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation and in some cases, age, you may have a meritorious case against your employer. But if not, it’s a much tougher road. Unless you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement (union contract) or have some other kind of written agreement as to the scope of your employment, you are an “at-will” employee and your boss can terminate your employment for any reason, except the ones outlined above (gender, race, national origin, disability, and sometimes age).
I’ve been harmed or threatened by a spouse, intimate partner, or other family member. What are my legal options?
You can apply for a Relief from Abuse Order (also known as a “restraining order”) at a court in the county where you live. At the Court, you will be asked to fill out paperwork and an affidavit explaining what happened and why you want the relief from abuse order. You can do this yourself on weekdays during business hours. If you need the order after hours and on weekends, there is usually a judge available to hear the request by phone. The best way to apply after hours is to contact Umbrella, a local non-profit that advocates for victims of domestic violence. Contact them here.
If a judge thinks that your statement rises to the legal level required for an order, based on the facts stated in your affidavit, the judge will grant a temporary, 10 day order. The person you are seeking the order against will be served and told to come to court. At that court date, both sides will have a chance to present evidence and make statements, and the judge will decide, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether to grant the permanent order, which usually lasts for one year.
Remember, if you are in danger, a relief from abuse order is a good step to take, but it does not guarantee safety. Studies show, for example, that women are often at greater risk when they make the decision to leave an abusive relationship or file for the relief from abuse order. Don’t rely exclusively on court orders. Make a safety plan even if you have an order. That means having a plan for how to leave your location quickly if necessary, having a safe place to go, having someone to call who can help you if you are in danger, etc. For more information on safety planning in domestic violence situations, contact Umbrella.
How does your office charge attorney’s fees?
Here at Young & Wilson, PC, we utilize a range of payment structures, tailored to type of case. Real estate transactions, such as title searches and closings, involve flat fees and are typically collected directly out of the proceeds of the sale.
Many civil matters, including representation of municipalities, contract disputes and general civil litigation involve hourly rates. Rates range from $175.00-$200.00 per hour.
Representation in criminal matters is generally a combination of a flat fee and an hourly rate.
In some kinds of civil cases, often involving personal injury, our firm will enter into a written contingency fee agreement with the client. This means that the attorney will do the work up front at no cost to you, and in the event that any monetary damages are recovered, our firm will receive a percentage of funds. Clients interested in this sort of fee structure should be aware that our firm analyzes contingency fee cases very carefully and tends to be conservative in accepting them.
In many cases, the firm will require a retainer at the beginning of your case. That retainer is deposited into the firm’s client trust account and attorneys bill against that retainer as the work is performed. In some cases, the retainer is exhausted and the client will need to make further payment, and in other instances, there can be a refund, depending on the time it takes to resolve the case.