Posted August 17, 202211:05 am
Clevelanders are beginning to see the fruits of a 2021 election that brought more housing reformers into office, both in the mayor’s office and on City Council. The city’s new “pay to stay” ordinance, passed last week, importantly codifies the right of Cleveland renters to avoid eviction by paying all rent due, plus late fees and court costs -- amended wisely right before passage to allow renters also to avoid eviction if they can show they’d been approved for rental assistance but hadn’t yet received the funds.
Given the known serious negative consequences from eviction for families and children, including homelessness and interrupted schooling, this important legislation addresses the flaw in Ohio law that allows landlords to start eviction proceedings immediately if rent isn’t received on the due date. Now, in Cleveland, tenants will have the affirmative right to pay in full past-due rent, a late fee of no more than $25 and court costs to be able to stay in their homes.
This legislation builds on Cleveland’s breakthrough right-to-counsel ordinance from 2019 that ensures that poorer families with children get legal representation when they are facing eviction. As we editorialized earlier this year in calling on Cuyahoga County to adopt similar legislation, Cleveland’s ordinance, which took effect in July 2020 -- making Cleveland just the fourth U.S. city to adopt such protections -- has had immediate beneficial results. An independent assessment found that the ordinance’s combined $4.3 million to $4.7 million savings from “avoided” spending and “retained” value was 1.66 times the $2.7 million the Cleveland right-to-counsel law cost last year, funded largely by philanthropy.
How important are these anti-eviction measures? Ask the thousands of low-income Cleveland families with kids and households led by Black mothers who might otherwise face losing their homes and their ability to secure new ones.
A 2019 Cleveland eviction study by Case Western Reserve University’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development found that, of about 9,000 evictions filed in Cleveland each year, about 80% are for nonpayment of rent, cleveland.com’s Courtney Astolfi reports. “About 80% of evictions in Cleveland involve Black women and mothers with children,” Astolfi added, citing data from a local expert.
In passing pay-to-stay legislation, Cleveland joins a growing list of other Ohio cities, including Akron, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo, and locally, Cleveland Heights, Euclid, Lakewood, Maple Heights, Newburgh Heights and South Euclid, Astolfi reports.
But Cleveland can’t stop there. Next on its to-do list should be source-of-income anti-discrimination protections for renters, to prevent denial of rentals to renters who receive federal Section 8 housing choice vouchers, court-ordered payments and like rental supports. Akron, Cleveland Heights, South Euclid and University Heights are among local communities that already provide this important protection against rental discrimination.
Additionally, City Hall and Cleveland City Council members need to work with Cleveland Housing Court to ensure that every compliance avenue is pursued to support Cleveland’s critically important lead-safe ordinance, which aims to keep children in Cleveland’s older rental homes safe from the scourge of lead poisoning that’s stunted the futures of too many Cleveland kids for too many years.
That’s especially needed after last week’s ruling from an 8th Ohio Court of Appeals panel finding invalid a Cleveland Housing Court rule that had required landlords to establish their compliance with the city’s lead-safe certification ordinance as a precondition to eviction proceedings.
At a minimum, that means a strengthened educational effort to ensure that landlords understand not just their obligations under the lead-safe ordinance and the city’s rolling compliance deadlines as it applies to them, but also how to find the tools to help them achieve compliance. Cleveland’s lead-safe ordinance requires city rentals built before 1978, when Congress outlawed lead paint, to be certified as lead-safe by March 2023. Thanks to the public-private Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, help is available. Go to leadsafecle.org for more information.
Last week’s appellate ruling, from a panel of three Democratic judges at the Cleveland-based court, found the Housing Court rule to be invalid both because it conflicted with a landlord’s “substantive rights” under relevant state law but also because it “effectively adds an additional element to an eviction cause of action that is not required by the eviction statutes.” That last suggests that Cleveland might be able to perfect its eviction laws to make explicit the need for lead-safe compliance prior to eviction filings.
There can be no dispute, however, that lead-safe rentals are in everyone’s best interests. The well-being of Cleveland’s children demands no less.
Read the original editorial on cleveland.com: Cleveland City Council should expand on its welcome eviction-reform initiatives: editorial