Poverty Law Project

The Poverty Law Project addresses both the symptoms and the causes of poverty.

We help people remain in their homes by fighting evictions and foreclosures, and we improve the quality of those homes by enforcing the rental housing code on both an individual and statewide level.

We help people with disabilities who are in danger of losing their benefits, and we help people who are entitled to unemployment compensation benefits but have been denied.

We represent victims of domestic violence in housing, consumer, bankruptcy and other cases that allow them to become economically independent of their abusers.

Through our Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, we represent low income people who have tax disputes with the IRS.

Our legislative advocacy on behalf of low-income people addresses the systemic and institutional causes of poverty. For example, we lobbied for a bill that provides protections for vulnerable consumers who purchase products from rent-to-own businesses. We also lobbied to make it unlawful to ask about criminal history on job applications, making it easier for those who served time for non-violent, minor offences to find jobs and improve their financial situations.

The High Cost of Rent-to-Own

Jamie has three children and receives a modest income through Social Security Disability. Although they live in Section 8 housing, rent and utilities often take up more than half of her monthly income. There is not much left over for food, clothing and other necessities. 

With three children, Jamie needed a washer and dryer to keep up with all the laundry. A rent-to-own store told her that she could get an energy efficient front-loading washer-dryer set for just $20 per week for 52 weeks. She was told the actual cost of the set was about $600, but didn’t realize at the time that her payments added up to over $1,000.

She also didn’t know that the set was used. The washer stopped working before she finished paying for it. The store took it back, but gave her a top-loader replacement and added 13 weeks to her contract term. In the end, the set cost $1,300 and Jamie didn’t have the front-loader that she had purchased.

Vermont Legal Aid worked hard to get a bill passed in 2015 that would provide some protections for Jamie and others like her who struggle to make ends meet and turn to rent-to-own stores to buy furniture and appliances.

Name(s) and some details have been changed to protect anonymity and confidentiality.

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