Year-Round Use of Property

As of July 1, 2007, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation required that the conversion of a single family residence from a seasonal to year-round use requires a permit.

The permit required is a Water Supply – Wastewater Disposal Permit (a “WW Permit”). WW Permits involve documentation that the existing water and waste water systems were properly engineered, installed and certified, or, if this is not the case, the Permit will require that new systems be designed, installed and certified, often, at significant expense.

The new requirement was designed to address the conversion of (typically) seasonal lake side cottages to permanent residences. Many of these summer seasonal properties were not designed with appropriate water and septic systems and the increasing conversions were creating substantial surface water pollution problems.

The new regulations were not, however, limited to seasonal camps. The rules applied to all Vermont residences. Given the typical seasonal use of residences in Vermont ski towns, the issue of year-round residency has become something of an issue in and around ski resorts.

There are two important exemptions to the requirement that conversion from seasonal to year-round use requires a new permit.

The first is that if a property already has a qualified, valid WW Permit (or “EC” Permit or other prior iterations of the permit) then the residence is qualified for use as a year-round property. (Note, however that if the permit itself, or even the application or supporting data for the permit application somehow indicate the use of the property is limited to a “camp” or otherwise – then the seasonal issue may still have to be addressed.) For the most part, all local condominium projects, and most single family residences constructed within the last 20 or so years have valid existing permits, and are therefore qualified as year-round properties.

The second exemption is based upon prior use and occupancy of the property. The language of this exemption (contained in Department of Environmental Conservation Guidance Document 2008-1, Second Revision issued April 13, 2009) reads as follows:

A single family residence that was in existence as of midnight, December 31, 2006 will be considered to be a year-round residence if it has been occupied as a single family residence for at least 180 days in a one year period between December 31, 1986 and December 31 2006

Thus there is a 20 year window of time within which this exemption can be met.

How does one qualify for the 180 day use exemption? The Guidance Document provides as follows:

The Agency will accept an affidavit from the owner of the residence that attests to the fact that the residence has been used on a year-round basis in accordance with this guidance as proof of year-round residence status unless contradictory evidence is submitted to the Agency.

Note that the 180 days need not be consecutive. Nor does the occupancy need to have been by the owner. So long as the owner can sign an affidavit that, in any given year during the 20 year window, some combination of occupancy by the owner, the owner’s family, guests, or renters, that totals 180 days, the property will qualify for the exemption.

For whatever reasons (but as is often the case) the seasonal/year-round issue is not universally raised by lawyers and Realtors in all Vermont resort areas. We are aware that it is generally addressed in the Woodstock/Killington area, in some southern Vermont ski towns, as well as in areas with lake-side summer camp communities. It will almost certainly come-up in Mad River Valley transactions.

The rules and regulations are quite clear, however, and we believe that in areas of the state where practitioners ignore the year-round question, they do so at their own peril.