How will the public housing authority’s smoking bans affect me? Close

By July 30, 2018, public housing providers will all be required to implement smoke-free policies in residential buildings. The smoke-free policies prohibit residents from smoking in their units or outside of designated smoking areas. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) supports these bans in the interest of residents’ health and minimizing repair costs.[1]

Public housing authorities (PHAs) in Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties have begun to implement smoking bans based on HUD’s proposed “Smoke-Free Public Housing” rule from November 2015.[2] Some PHAs may implement their smoke-free policies sooner than the July 30, 2018 requirement.

The smoking bans include all lit tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Smoking will be prohibited in all public housing residential units, common areas, offices and the first 25 feet from the outside of the building.[3] Some housing providers may provide a Designated Smoking Area (DSA).[4] However, this is not required and the housing providers may choose to make the entire property smoke-free. All leases must include the smoking policy by July 30, 2018.

If a resident has a disability, a reasonable accommodation may be made to make it easier for the resident to access the area where smoking is allowed (i.e., the DSA or 25 feet from the building). However, the reasonable accommodation cannot allow a resident to smoke in the residential unit.

The goal of the smoke-free policy is to provide residents and staff with a healthier and safer environment. PHAs are encouraged to partner with their local and state health departments and tobacco control organizations to help residents who want to quit.

Each PHA has discretion on how to enforce its smoke-free policy. HUD recommends gradually increasing the consequences for violations, starting with verbal warnings, then a written warning, followed by a final notice. After repeated violations, enforcement of smoke-free policies could result in evictions for tenants that do not adhere to the policy or continue to smoke in their unit.

PHAs should be providing notice to all tenants in advance of this change to policy and to lease agreements. Residents should speak with their property manager about any questions or concerns in advance.

This article was written by Abigail Staudt and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

[1] Change Is In The Air: An Action Guide for Establishing Smoke-Free Public Housing and Multifamily Properties, Department of Housing and Urban Development, p. 10-17 (2014).

[2] Instituting Smoke-Free Public Housing, 80 Fed. Reg. 71,762 (Nov. 17, 2015)

[3] 324 CFR §965.653(c)

[4] 324 CFR §965.653(b)


How can I enforce my rights if I have been discriminated against based on LGBTQ status? Close

In Ohio, 20 cities have laws protecting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (“LGBTQ”) from discrimination. See http://www.equalityohio.org/city-map/. In many instances, the local ordinances create a board or committee charged with hearing complaints under the law. Unfortunately, the process for filing a complaint and addressing discrimination is not always clear.

In February 2016, the ACLU of Ohio learned about discrimination two transgender women faced at a store in Cleveland. The women were protected under Cleveland’s anti-discrimination ordinance.[1] Elizabeth Bonham, a Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Ohio, filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Board, as provided in the ordinance.[2] The Fair Housing Board issued its findings in favor of the women on December 12, 2016.

People who experience discrimination based on LGBTQ status in Cleveland, whether in housing or in public accommodations, can enforce their rights through filing a complaint with the Fair Housing Board. For information about the process, call the Fair Housing Board at 216.664.4529. In other cities that have passed anti-discrimination or human rights ordinances protecting the LGBTQ community, individuals have to contact each city’s law department to learn the appropriate process for filing a complaint.

The ACLU of Ohio has provided trainings on, and continues to provide information on, LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances, including enforcement options. For more information visit http://www.acluohio.org/archives/blog-posts/lgbt-advocacy-in-real-time or call the ACLU of Ohio at 216.472.2200. For information on how to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission contact Equality Ohio at 216.224.0400 or visit

This article was written by Chloe Sudduth and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

[1] See City of Cleveland, Code of Ordinances, Part Six, Title V – Discrimination, available at http://www.clevelandcitycouncil.org/legislation-laws/charter-codified-ordinances.

[2] ACLU case Doe vs. Family Dollar, Inc. and CityWide Protection (Administrative Complaint): http://www.acluohio.org/archives/cases/doe-v-family-dollar-inc-and-citywide-protection

I am a Tenant – Can I call/text my questions about my rights & responsibilities? Close

Tenants can now call Legal Aid’s Tenant Information Line at 216.861.5955 with questions about their rights and responsibilities.  Tenants can call between the hours 9am-5pm and leave a brief message with their housing question and someone will call them back within 24 business hours.

Tenants can text Legal Aid at 216.242.1544 for info about responding to an eviction, requesting return of a security deposit, problems with housing conditions and lead poisoning.

  • For help responding to an eviction complaint text FAQ EVICTION.
  • For information on how to request a return of a security deposit text FAQ DEPOSIT.
  • For information on how to rent deposit text FAQ REPAIRS.
  • For lead poisoning information text FAQ LEAD.

What happens to your personal property if you’ve been evicted? Close

Ohio law prohibits your landlord from taking or disposing of your property after an eviction, unless the court specifically gives the landlord permission to do so. Landlords also cannot take your belongings for the purpose of recovering unpaid rent unless the landlord gets a court order. If your landlord takes your property without a court order and will not release it to you until you have paid back owed rent, you have the right to sue your landlord under Ohio law, specifically Revised Code §§ 5321.15(B) and (C).

If you make these claims, your landlord may argue that you “abandoned” your property, which would give the landlord the right to take it. Your landlord must prove that you:
(1) gave up all rights to your personal property and
(2) demonstrated your intent to never again reclaim your property.

Ohio law does not specify what a landlord is required to do with property left behind by a tenant who was evicted. However, in order to avoid liability for damages, your landlord should not dispose of any personal property left behind after an eviction and should instead store it and make it available to you. Landlords may charge you a reasonable cost for moving and storing the property.

If you were evicted and left behind personal property that you want, your former landlord may not require you to pay back rent owed in order to get your belongings back unless the landlord has a court order. Remember you may have to pay for the moving and storage of your property.

This article was written by Sara Bird and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Can paying property taxes on time help avoid foreclosure? Close

Property taxes can be confusing to many people. But understanding them will make you a more secure homeowner.

You must pay your property taxes every year. Property taxes are usually split up into two bills that cover six months each. Many people do not realize they are paying property taxes. If you have a mortgage, your bank may be collecting what you owe for taxes each month and holding it “in escrow.” The escrow money is included in your monthly mortgage bill. The bank then pays the bill for you every six months, which makes it easy for people to forget about property taxes. But it’s important to remember them.

If you do not have a mortgage (or have paid off your mortgage), you have to pay your property taxes directly to your County Treasurer. (See the Homestead Exemption article that explains how you can lower your tax bill, if you are over 65 or disabled). It is important to set aside money each month to pay your twice-yearly property tax bills. Some County Treasurers have programs where you can pay your taxes over 12 monthly payments, instead of making larger payments twice per year.

Importantly, the County can take your home from you if you fail to pay your property taxes. This is called a property tax foreclosure. If you get notices that you are behind on your property taxes, start paying as much as you can right away! The longer you wait, the more late fees and additional charges you will owe. The longer you wait, the more at risk you are of losing your home.

You might be able to work out a payment plan if you talk to your County Treasurer:
Ashtabula County–(440) 576-3727
Cuyahoga County– (216) 443-7420 (Taxpayer Services)
Geauga County– (440) 279-2000
Lake County– (440) 350-2516
Lorain County– (440) 329-5787

Sometimes the county sells an overdue property tax debt to a private company such as Woods Cove or TaxEase. These private companies can also foreclose on your home if you do not pay the old property tax bills that they purchased.

If you are contacted by a private company about your property taxes, you should always check with your County Treasurer before paying a company that claims to own your old taxes. You want to make sure that the private company really does have the right to collect your property tax money. If a private company does own your old tax debt, you should ask that company about a payment plan to pay off the old taxes and avoid foreclosure.

Remember, even if you send money to a private company to pay off old taxes, you are still responsible for paying your current and future property taxes directly to your County Treasurer.

Paying your property taxes on time each year will help you keep your home and avoid foreclosure.

This article was written by Rebecca Maurer and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What to do about blighted properties? Close

Is there a house on your street that nobody is taking care of? Is a house being used for criminal activity? Or maybe a neighbor is living in a house that isn’t safe? There are things you can do to address a blighted house on your block.

The first step is to call the City of Cleveland (216-664-2000) and enter a complaint. (This article focuses on what to do in Cleveland, but you can take a similar approach in any city). When you call, have the address of the property and the full list of information you would like the City to know. When you call, ask for a reference number. The reference number will allow you to call back and check up on what the City has done in response to your complaint.

What the City does next (and how quickly) depends on the nature of the complaint. If nobody is living at the house, and the issue is related to the physical condition of the house, the Department of Building and Housing is called. Building and Housing tries to send an inspector within 2-4 weeks. The Inspector will inspect the property to see if the complaint is accurate. If so, the City will issue a violation notice. If the City has to do anything – like cutting the grass or boarding up the house – the owner of the property will be charged the fees. If the nature of the complaint involves the health and welfare of people, the City may send out the Health Department, the Police, and even emergency services. If the owner of the property does not resolve the issue, the City of Cleveland can refer the case to the Law Department to begin legal proceedings against the owner.

Concerned neighbors have little control over this referral process. Your involvement may be limited to making the initial phone call and following up. Because of this, another good option is to call the Councilperson in your ward and work with them to resolve the issue.

There are a lot of blighted homes in Cleveland, so sometimes property issues take a long time to resolve. Persistent and creative engagement by you and your neighbors can help make your block better.

This article was written by Rebecca Maurer and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

I have questions as a renter. Who can I call? Close

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is excited to announce we are now staffing the Tenant Information Line for rental housing questions (formerly staffed by Cleveland Tenants Organization).

Renters can call 216-861-5955 during business hours if they need information about their rights and responsibilities. The line is open to anyone in Legal Aid’s service area, which includes Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain Counties.

This is an information line only, and those with legal questions may be referred to Legal Aid’s intake or a neighborhood legal advice clinic.

Click here for a printable flyer about this helpful resource!

Is rent deposit an option to get my landlord to make repairs? Close

If you are a tenant, your landlord is required to make certain necessary repairs to your rental unit, including:
• Repairs to keep the property in a livable condition;
• Repairs to meet housing and building codes that affect your health and safety; and
• Repairs required by your lease.

In Ohio, a tenant can pay rent to a court, instead of the landlord, after a landlord has refused to make necessary repairs within a reasonable amount of time. This is called “rent deposit” or “rent escrow.” However, the tenant must be very careful to follow certain rules in order to deposit rent to the court properly.

Before a tenant can deposit rent into the court, the tenant generally must:
• Be current on rent;
• Give the landlord written notice of the repairs needed by sending the notice to the person or place where the rent is normally paid (the tenant should keep a copy of this notice); and
• Give the landlord a reasonable time (usually 30 days, unless it’s an emergency) to make the repairs.

If the landlord doesn’t make the repairs during this reasonable time, the tenant generally may deposit the next month’s rent with the Clerk of Court of the municipal court for the tenant’s community. Each month, the tenant must continue to deposit the rent with the Clerk of Court by the date the rent is due according to the tenant’s lease. The Clerk of Court may have additional rules for depositing the rent, which the tenant must follow. The rent will remain on deposit with the court until the tenant and the landlord agree on how and when it should be released, or the court decides to release it.

Some non profit groups help tenants with the rent deposit process, at no charge to the tenant:
• In Ohio (all counties): Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), (888) 485-7999.
• In Cuyahoga County: Rental Information Center of the Cleveland Tenants Organization, (216) 432-0609.
• In Lake County: Fair Housing Resource Center, Inc., (440) 392-0147.

Also, some courts help tenants with the rent deposit process. For example, Cleveland Housing Court specialists can explain the rent deposit process to tenants. The specialists are located on the 13th Floor of the Justice Center, 1200 Ontario Street, Cleveland, OH 44113, and are available for drop-in visits, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Cleveland Housing Court phone number is (216) 664-4295.

This article was written by the Legal Aid Housing Practice Group and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What must owners tell tenants/buyers about lead paint? Close

Lead poisoning is one of the leading public health hazards in the U.S. today. The Ohio Department of Health recently tested Cleveland children under 6 and found almost 14% had elevated blood levels. One of the most common sources for child lead poisoning is lead paint hazards from homes built prior to 1978. Low-income individuals are especially vulnerable to having to live in old housing where lead paint is still an issue.

Some protections exist for those purchasing or leasing housing built before 1978. The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, also known as Title X, covers all housing offered
for sale or lease built prior to 1978. This includes private housing, public housing, federally owned housing, and all housing that receives federal assistance.

Under this act, a landlord must provide a tenant with an approved Environmental Protection Agency pamphlet on how to identify and control lead hazards. The landlord must disclose all known
lead hazards in the unit and in all common areas a tenant may use. A landlord must also provide a prospective tenant with any lead hazard reports related to the unit. Finally, the lease must include terms stating that the landlord has complied with all the notification requirements in Title X.

Renters and buyers who did not get the required information should call The National Lead Information Center hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD(5323). Callers can request a general information packet, and ask any questions concerning lead. If it turns out the home has a lead hazard, tenants should seek legal assistance. A tenant may sue a landlord if the landlord doesn’t provide the required information. The City of Cleveland’s lead hazard control ordinance declares lead hazards a public nuisance and the Commissioner of Health may order the landlord to abate, or clean up, the nuisance.

Lead poisoning can have long-term, irreversible effects on children. Homeowners and renters moving into a new dwelling should be sure that the seller or landlord provides all required information related to lead in the property.

This article was written by Luke Condon and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Can I save money with Ohio’s Homestead Exemption? Close

Ohio’s Homestead Exemption protects the first $25,000 of your home’s value from taxation. For example, if your home is worth $100,000, you will be taxed as if the home were worth $75,000. On average, those who qualify for the exemption save $400 a year.

Who is eligible? A homeowner who is:

1. 65 years old (or who will turn 65 this year), or
2. Permanently and totally disabled as of the 1st day of the year in which they file, or
3. The surviving spouse of a person previously enrolled in Homestead and who was at least 59 years of age when the spouse died.

What property is eligible for the exemption?
1. The property must be where you usually live, and
2. You must have been living there as of January 1st, and
3. You must be on the deed, or if the property is held in a trust, you must give the Auditor a copy of the trust.

How do you apply?
1. Fill out application form DTE105A—you can get the form at your county Auditor’s office, at your county Auditor’s website, or at the Ohio Department of Taxation’s website (tax.ohio.gov).
2. File form DTE105A with your county Auditor—you must file the original form that has your ink signature (not a copy). You cannot electronically file the form.

In September 2016, the law changed to allow real property (land and buildings attached to the land) applications to be filed any time before December 31st. If you are applying for the exemption on a manufactured or mobile home, you have to apply on or before the first Monday in June. If you were eligible for the exemption last year, but did not apply, you can file a late application for the previous year at the same time that you file your application for the current year.

If your eligibility is based on AGE, you must submit PROOF OF AGE with your application. You can prove your age with a copy of your driver’s license (current or expired), State of Ohio ID card, birth certificate or passport (current or expired).

If your eligibility is based on DISABILITY, you must submit PROOF OF DISABILITY with your application. You can prove your disability by getting the Auditor’s Certificate of Disability form signed by your doctor OR by giving the Auditor a copy of a statement from Social Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Railroad Retirement Board, or the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation that says you are totally and permanently disabled.

If you are approved for the Homestead Exemption, you do not have to re-apply in future years.

If your application is denied, or you think the reduction amount is less than what you should get, you can file an appeal with the County Board of Revision using form DTE106B. Instructions for appealing the decision will be in the denial letter you receive.

To get an application form, or if you need help or have questions, call your county Auditor’s Homestead Department:

In Cuyahoga County, call 216.443.7010
In Ashtabula County, call 440.576.3445
In Lake County, call 440.350.2536
In Geauga County, call 440.279.1617
In Lorain County, call 440.329.5207

By Kristen Nawrocki

The Campaign for Legal Aid
Steady growth in donor support through The Campaign for Legal Aid extends Legal Aid’s reach in Northeast Ohio.

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Housing Justice Alliance
The Campaign for Legal Aid will support the Housing Justice Alliance - and we'll be the first community in Ohio to create a right to counsel when someone's home is at risk.

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Working together to #ExtendJustice
Our leadership with The Campaign for Legal Aid will extend the reach of justice to more families in Northeast Ohio.

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