Ohio law gives rights and responsibilities to tenants and landlords. Oral and written lease agreements also control what tenants and landlords must do. Additional rules apply to public and subsidized housing. Landlords must follow the rules related to repairing conditions, evicting tenants, and resolving other problems with tenants.
- Housing Discrimination
- Private Landlords (Market rate rent)
- Public & Subsidized
City of Bedford Ceases Enforcement of Unconstitutional Nuisance Ordinance
BEDFORD – Today, as a result of litigation brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Ohio, and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the City of Bedford has suspended enforcement of its unconstitutional Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinance while the litigation proceeds. The plaintiffs, the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research and Beverley Somai, filed a lawsuit on February 20, 2019 alleging that Bedford’s Nuisance Ordinance violates the First Amendment by penalizing people for calling the police for help—and is used to discriminate against communities of color, low-income households, people with disabilities, and domestic violence survivors.
“A call for help should never result in eviction. No one’s housing should be at risk simply because they called 911. Bedford’s law and other nuisance laws like it don’t benefit anyone—they are used to exclude and mistreat people. We are pleased that the City agreed to a preliminary injunction. We will continue fighting for the ordinance to be repealed for good,” said Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.
Courts across the country have found that local nuisance ordinances violate residents’ rights under the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they punish people for reaching out to their governments, often without notice or an opportunity to challenge whether they should be considered a “nuisance.”
“Bedford’s nuisance ordinance does not further any legitimate public safety goals, it actually harms public safety by penalizing victims of crime and other people who require emergency assistance,” added Jennifer Sheehe, attorney for The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “Our clients’ experience is far from an anomaly. Bedford’s broad, discriminatory, punitive ordinance should be permanently struck down.”
City of Bedford to stop enforcing ‘nuisance ordinance’ amid lawsuit claiming it discriminates against minorities and women
BEDFORD, Ohio — The city of Bedford agreed to stop enforcing a nuisance ordinance that is the subject of an federal lawsuit claiming it is used to discriminate against and make housing unavailable to minorities, women and people with disabilities, court records say.
The suit, filed Feb. 20 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, says Bedford’s Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinance violates the First Amendment by penalizing people for calling the police for help. It also says Bedford’s ordinance is one of the harshest in the country and targets black residents, the majority of whom are renters.
A federal judge approved the stipulation Monday afternoon, and granted a preliminary injunction to keep Bedford from enforcing the ordinance while the lawsuit is pending.
An ACLU of Ohio staff attorney said Monday the organization is pleased Bedford is suspending its enforcement of the nuisance ordinance, but is still fighting for its repeal.
“A call for help should never result in eviction. No one’s housing should be at risk simply because they called 911,” ACLU staff attorney Elizabeth Bonham said in a news release. “Bedford’s law and other nuisance laws like it don’t benefit anyone—they are used to exclude and mistreat people.”
Under Bedford’s ordinance, someone can be designated a nuisance after the ordinance is broken twice on a property or in the city. But it does not distinguish between an offender and a complainant, meaning that someone can be penalized for calling the police, the suit says.
The ordinance allows tenants can be penalized even if they are not at fault, the suit says. It also allows the city to threaten landlords with fines and criminal prosecution if they rent to “nuisance” tenants, the suit says.
Bedford officials passed the ordinance in 2005 and updated it several times over the years, most recently in 2017. The suit says the city passed the ordinance as its demographics were shifting, with more black residents moving into Bedford.
How to Rent Deposit when Housing Conditions are a Problem
In Ohio, if a landlord refuses to make necessary repairs within a reasonable amount of time, a tenant can “rent deposit.”
“Rent deposit” or “rent escrow” means a tenant can pay rent to a court, instead of the landlord.
The tenant must be very careful to follow certain rules when paying rent to a court. If a tenant stops paying rent because the property needs repairs, the tenant risks an eviction for non-payment of rent. Instead of refusing to pay the rent, a tenant should follow the rent deposit procedure.
Ohio Landlord-Tenant Law: The Basics
Learn about Ohio Landlord-Tenant Law through this new brochure published by Legal Aid. Click here to see a PDF of the brochure.
In Ohio a Landlord has a duty to:
- Keep the property in livable condition.
- Keep the common areas clean and safe.
- Comply with building, housing, health, and safety codes.
- Keep in good working order all electrical, plumbing, heating, and ventilation equipment.
- Maintain all appliances and equipment supplied by the landlord.
- Provide running water, hot water and heat (unless the hot water and heat are controlled entirely by the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility hook-up).
- Provide garbage cans and trash removal (if the landlord owns four or more residential units in the same building).
- Give at least 24 hours notice, unless it is an emergency, before entering a tenant’s unit, and enter only at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner.
- Evict the tenant when informed by a law enforcement officer of drug activity by the tenant, a member of the tenant’s household, or a guest of the tenant occurring in or otherwise connected with the tenant’s premises.
In Ohio a Tenant has a duty to:
- Keep the property clean and safe.
- Dispose of rubbish in the proper manner.
- Keep the plumbing fixtures as clean as their condition permits.
- Use electrical and plumbing fixtures properly.
- Comply with housing, health, and safety codes that apply to tenants.
- Refrain from damaging the property and keep guests from causing damage.
- Maintain appliances supplied by the landlord in good working order.
- Conduct yourself in a manner that does not disturb any neighbors and require guests to do the same.
- Permit landlord to enter the dwelling unit if the request is reasonable and proper notice is given.
- Comply with state or municipal drug laws in connection with the property and require household members and guests to do the same.
Lead Poisoning: Rights, Remedies & Resources
Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children. There is treatment for lead poisoning, but taking some simple precautions can help protect you and your family from lead exposure before harm is done.
Legal Aid can help! Click here for an informative brochure about Lead Poisoning: Know Your Rights, Remedies & Resources. You can also browse other Legal Aid articles related to lead poisoning and related FAQ’s and brochures by clicking here.
Get Tested for Lead
Young Children at Risk
Children 6 years old and under are at most risk for damage from lead poisoning. Children may be at risk of lead poisoning if:
- They live in or visit a home built before 1978.
- Paint is peeling on windows or doors.
- Large patches of bare dirt are exposed around their home.
Have your child’s doctor test your child’s blood lead levels. If you are covered by Medicaid, the lead screening will be covered. If the blood lead level is above 5 μg/dl there is cause for concern.
If the blood lead level is above 10 μg/dl, Ohio law requires the Ohio Department of Health or a local health department to inspect the child’s home for lead hazards. Update your contact information with the child’s doctor to ensure the Department of Health can inspect.
Call the Ohio Department of Health at 877-532-3723 to get more information on having the place a child lives or visits tested for lead. Cleveland residents should call 216-664-2175. Other Cuyahoga County residents should call 216-201-2000.
Get the Lead Out
If you live in a rental unit built before 1978, notify your landlord in writing if there is any peeling paint, large patches of bare dirt on the premises, or if your child has lead poisoning and request that your landlord make repairs. Date the letter and keep a copy for your records. If your landlord fails to make repairs within 30 days, under Ohio law you may:
- Deposit your rent in escrow at the court. You must be current in rent payments to use this process. See step by step directions for rent depositing at: https://tinyurl.com/LegalAidRentDeposit.
- Apply to the court to order the landlord to make repairs to lead hazards.
- Terminate your lease and move.
- Depositing rent may waive your rights to sue your landlord for any injury resulting from the lead poisoning. To consider any claims against your landlord, consult with an attorney before depositing rent.
Call Legal Aid if your landlord files an eviction or raises your rent after you have provided notice of a lead condition or because you have contacted the Health Department because of lead conditions.
Contact your local public health authorities for information on assistance programs to make your home lead-safe. Federal law requires disclosure of any known lead hazard at the time of sale.
Help Your Child
Lead poisoning may have long term effects including attention difficulties, behavior problems, or learning challenges. A nutritional diet early on may help. For more information see: www.epa.gov/lead.
A child under the age of 3 years old that has been lead poisoned may qualify for early intervention Help Me Grow services, even if they are not showing signs of delay. Call Help Me Grow at 800-755-4769.
If a child has learning or behavior problems in school, ask the school to evaluate the child for special education services. Let the school know the child was lead poisoned, and it is impacting the child’s education.
- Put the request in writing.
- Date the request and keep a copy.
- If you are not given a written response within 30 days, contact Legal Aid.
Personal Injury Suit
You may have claims if your child has been lead poisoned. Lawsuits based on lead poisoning may be difficult to prove. Call your local bar association to consult with an attorney who handles personal injury claims.
Legal Aid’s Brief Advice Clinics
Want to talk in-person with an attorney? In addition to in-person and phone intake, Legal Aid offers Brief Advice Clinics in neighborhoods throughout Northeast Ohio. At the Clinics you can talk in-person with an attorney and ask questions about your legal problem.
Text 216-242-1544 with the message LAS CLINIC for date and location of next clinic or visit www.lasclev.org for a complete schedule.
Contact the Bar Association
Contact your local bar association for a referral to a private attorney.
- Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association: 216-696-3532
- Lorain County Bar Association: 440-323-8416
- Lake County, Ohio Bar Association: 440-350-5800
- Geauga County Bar Association: 440-286-7160
- Ashtabula County Bar Association: 440-415-4503
Lead Poisoning – Know Your Rights!
Click here for a helpful info card which briefly highlights your rights related to Lead Poisoning.
First steps to prevention
- The most common sources of lead are peeling paint and bare soil.
- Contact your landlord in writing to request a repair of these conditions.
Test your Children
- Ask your pediatrician to test your child for lead poisoning.
- If your child’s blood lead level is above 5 μg/dl there is cause for concern.
- If it is above 10 μg/dl the Department of Health should inspect your home.
- If your child is falling behind in school, ask the school in writing to evaluate them for special education and mention their lead
poisoning. Contact Legal Aid if you do not receive a response within 30 days.
- If your landlord refuses to repair lead hazards, contact Legal Aid.
Text FAQ LEAD to 216.242.1544 for a link to more information, including resources for homeowners.
What is Fair Housing?
What is fair housing?
Fair housing is the right to live in your home free from discrimination. Fair housing is protected by national, state and local laws. Yet, housing discrimination is still common.
Examples of unlawful housing discrimination could be:
- A landlord telling parents “We don’t take kids here.”
- A landlord denying housing to anyone with a felony.
- A landlord telling a person of color that the apartments have all been rented.
- A landlord telling a person with a disability that they cannot have their service dog live with them.
How can you make sure your housing is fair?
Start by knowing your rights. Fair housing laws say landlords cannot deny housing or treat tenants differently based on certain “protected” characteristics. “Protected classes” are based on things like race, religion, sex, or disability.
Ohio law also protects people based on ancestry or military status. Cuyahoga County law protects LGBTQ+ persons. Fair housing laws in different cities and suburbs could also include protections for other groups based on age, marital status or having a housing voucher, to name a few.
What can you do about unfair treatment related to housing?
Call The Fair Housing Center at 216.361.9240 and ask for help.
The Fair Housing Center helps people every day to fight for their right to choose where they want to live.
This article was written by Carrie Pleasants from the Fair Housing Center for Rights and Research, and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 1.
How Can a Tenant Get Their Security Deposit?
Under Ohio Law, a tenant has the right to request the return of their security deposit after they have moved out of the rental property.
When should a tenant ask for the return of their security deposit?
- After the tenant has cleaned the unit and moved out; and
- After the tenant has returned the keys to the landlord.
How should a tenant request the return of their security deposit?
- Write a letter to the landlord which includes the tenant’s name, the tenant’s new mailing address, the address of the rental property, and if known, the amount paid for the security deposit. Online tools can help tenants prepare a letter requesting return of their security deposit. Go to http://ohiolegalhelp.org/self-help-forms/ and look for “Return of Security Deposit.”
- The tenant should keep a copy of the letter for their record.
- Send the letter to the landlord by certified mail or by other delivery method that allows for proving the letter was delivered.
What must a landlord do in response to a tenant’s request for return of their security deposit?
The landlord has 30 days to respond to the tenant’s request for the return of the security deposit. The landlord may respond to the request for the return of the security deposit in three (3) ways:
- Mail the tenant the full amount of the security deposit;
- Mail the tenant a partial amount of the security deposit with an itemized list of deductions for damages or unpaid rent, fees, or utilities; or
- Withhold the security deposit and mail an itemized list of deductions that equals or exceeds the security deposit.
What happens if the landlord does not respond within 30 days?
If the landlord does not respond to the request for the return of the security deposit within 30 days, the tenant may sue to recover twice the amount of the security deposit’s value in the Small Claims Court in the city where the rental property is located.
Online tools can help tenants prepare court documents to sue a former landlord for return of the tenant’s security deposit. Go to http://ohiolegalhelp.org/self-help-forms/ and look for “Return of Security Deposit.”
After a tenant files a complaint in court against the former landlord, the court will schedule a hearing to decide if the landlord improperly withheld the security deposit and how much money, if any, the landlord owes the tenant.
This article was written by Dinola Phillips and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 1.
How Do I Seal an Eviction Record?
A new Rule at the Cleveland Housing Court may give tenants with past evictions a new start.
When an eviction is filed against a tenant in court, the case becomes part of the court’s public record. No matter what happens at the end of the case, even if the court rules in favor of the tenant and against the landlord, the case typically remains visible to the public. Because most landlords screen renters by searching their eviction case history, an old eviction case, no matter the outcome, can make it very difficult for a tenant to find housing.
Under a new Rule (Local Rule 6.13), which became effective on December 31, 2018, a tenant in Cleveland can now ask the court to seal some eviction records so they no longer appear on the tenant’s public case history.
Not all eviction records can be sealed under the new rule. If the court dismisses the eviction or rules in favor of the tenant, the case should qualify for sealing immediately. However, if a landlord wins an eviction judgment against a tenant, the tenant must wait at least five years from the date of the judgment (or any later eviction judgment) to seal the record. Also, the tenant must show that “extenuating” (or unusual) circumstances lead to the eviction. The new rule only applies to evictions in the Cleveland Housing Court on the 13th floor of the Justice Center.
A tenant who wants to seal an eviction case must file a “Motion to Seal Eviction Record” with the court. The tenant may have to pay a $25 filing fee. Tenants can download a fill-in-the-blank motion and filing instructions from the “Forms” section of the court’s website (http://clevelandhousingcourt.org). Most tenants should be able to complete and file the motion without help from a lawyer. The Cleveland Housing Court Specialists can answer questions about how to fill in the form and file it.
After a tenant files a motion to seal an eviction record, the court will decide whether to grant or deny the request. The court will consider a variety of factors in each case, including whether the landlord opposes the motion, or whether the tenant still owes the landlord money.
Even if a record is sealed, it does not go away completely. The Court Clerk will still have access to the record, which can be retrieved and unsealed if ordered by a judge.
The new Rule 6.13 is a powerful tool that should help many Clevelanders struggling to find housing. For more information about the eviction sealing process, contact a Housing Court Specialist at the Cleveland Housing Court on the 13th Floor of the Justice Center, 1200 Ontario Street, Cleveland, OH 44113, or call 216.664.4295. Specialists are available for drop-in visits Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
This article was written by Mike Russell and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 1.
How will the public housing authority’s smoking bans affect me?
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.
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. 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. Some housing providers may provide a Designated Smoking Area (DSA). 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!
 Instituting Smoke-Free Public Housing, 80 Fed. Reg. 71,762 (Nov. 17, 2015)
How can I enforce my rights if I have been discriminated against based on LGBTQ status?
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. Elizabeth Bonham, a Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Ohio, filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Board, as provided in the ordinance. 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 http://www.equalityohio.org/ehea/.
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!
 See City of Cleveland, Code of Ordinances, Part Six, Title V – Discrimination, available at http://www.clevelandcitycouncil.org/legislation-laws/charter-codified-ordinances.
 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
What happens to your personal property if you’ve been evicted?
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!
Is rent deposit an option to get my landlord to make repairs?
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?
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 my application for housing be denied because I have a criminal record?
Housing providers can no longer automatically deny applications for housing based on a person having a criminal record. On April 4, 2016, the United Stated Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a decision saying that such practices can be discriminatory. This change should help more families get the housing that they need.
The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. HUD observed that nearly one-third of all people living in the US have a criminal record. HUD observed that African Americans and Hispanic Americans are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at higher rates than the general population. Further, HUD found that many landlords will not allow people to rent if they have a criminal record-sometimes based only on an arrest record.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on: race or color; religion; national origin; familial status or age—includes families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women; disability or handicap, or sex. HUD decided that using blanket rules that exclude tenants with criminal records has a discriminatory effect. Thus, HUD has decided that the discriminatory effect can violate Fair Housing Laws. A recent U. S. Supreme Court opinion supports this position, stating that a rule with a discriminatory effect (called “disparate impact”) can violate the Fair Housing Laws even if the landlord did not intend to discriminate.
Based on HUD’s decision, housing providers make individualized determinations about whether a person’s criminal record may disqualify him or her for housing, and cannot use blanket exclusions. A person denied admission to federally subsidized housing based on a criminal record should request a hearing to challenge the decision. People can also call Legal Aid to apply for help at 1-888-817-3777.
By Maria Smith
What impact could smoking bans have on your housing?
Housing providers have started banning smoking in residential buildings. The bans prohibit residents smoking in their units or outside of designated smoking areas. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development supports these bans in the interest of residents’ health and minimizing repair costs. 1
Public housing authorities (PHAs) in the five counties served by the Legal Aid Society may soon implement a smoking ban given HUD’s proposed “Smoke Free Public Housing” rule from November 2015. 2 Even in regions with relatively low smoking rates, such as Cuyahoga, 3 many citizens may be exposed to the health risks associated with smoking if they live or work in a smoking building.
If you live in a building considering a smoking ban, you may have the opportunity to voice your opinions about the ban. Look for signs or notices of a residents’ meeting within your building regarding a smoking ban. A residents’ meeting may be your best opportunity to speak directly to the PHA about the ban.
Another option for Cleveland residents to express their opinion is to contact the Cleveland Tenants Organization (CTO). CTO advocates for affordable and fair rental accommodations. 4 Tenants’ groups will be interested in working with PHAs to draft the ban because violations by tenants or tenants’ guests may result in a lease violation or even eviction. If you would like to speak with someone at CTO regarding a smoking ban, call (216) 432-0617.
Finally, if your building creates a smoking ban, be aware of your responsibilities. You may be asked to sign a lease addendum regarding the policy during a recertification meeting. 5 Read all documents carefully and ask your property manager any questions you have during that meeting. You may also request copies of the paperwork to review later or to discuss with a tenant advocate. Clarify when the new policy takes effect, and what is expected of tenants. You should also know the potential penalties for violating the ban so you can be sure to follow the new rules once effective.
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 Ellen Jan Kleinerman, “Cuyahoga County smoking rate is lowest in Ohio.” The Plain Dealer,
September 15, 2010. Electronic access here.
4 “Mission & Values”, www.clevelandtenants.org (2015).
5 Change Is In The Air, p. 63
By Abigail Pink
Cleveland City Council introduces legislation to create a right to counsel in housing court; first city in Ohio and the Midwest.
Asserting “lack of legal counsel for tenants during eviction cases is a violation of a basic human right,” Cleveland City Council today introduced legislation to create a right to counsel in eviction cases in Cleveland Housing Court.
The legislation will provide legal representation to households facing eviction that include children and are below 100% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Under the leadership of Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Tony Brancatelli, United Way of Greater Cleveland will develop and implement this landmark right in partnership with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
Our constitution ensures access to no-cost legal counsel when someone is accused of a serious crime and cannot afford an attorney. No similar constitutional right to legal counsel exists for tenants in eviction cases — even if losing the case would lead to homelessness.
“The Housing Justice Alliance will tip the scales for those who cannot afford a lawyer when their homes are at risk,” says Colleen Cotter, Esq., Legal Aid’s Executive Director. “By establishing a right to free, high-quality legal representation, we can secure safe, affordable, and stable housing for Cleveland families living in poverty.”
A safe, stable home serves as a foundation for healthy families and is the nexus of thriving communities. Yet, too many Cleveland families living in poverty are being evicted. There are an estimated 20,000 evictions in Cuyahoga County annually. In Cleveland, where about 9,000 evictions filed are filed each year, only 1% -2% of tenants facing eviction are represented by an attorney. Most landlords have a lawyer.
Thanks to the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland’s Innovation Mission, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland began to examine the efficacy of a right to counsel in Cleveland in 2018. From this platform, the Housing Justice Alliance was created. The Alliance is led by Legal Aid attorney Hazel Remesch and an advisory committee which includes low-income community members, representatives from the bar, and city leaders — including Council President Kelley and Council Member Brancatelli.
Studies show that tenants who receive full legal representation in eviction cases are more likely to stay in their homes and save on rent or fees. In the summer of 2017, New York City became the first U.S. city to pass historic “right to counsel” legislation, guaranteeing that tenants under 200% of federal poverty guidelines who face eviction have access to legal representation. As a result, New York City is expected to gain a net savings of $320 million annually. In the first year since the law’s implementation, 84% of households represented in court by lawyers avoided displacement.
Cleveland’s introduction of legislation for a right to counsel in eviction cases aims to help many Cleveland families overcome barriers to employment, economic opportunity, and educational success. Some evictions will not be avoided, of course; many evictions are unavoidable. However, this new legislation will ensure a significant number of low-income people who should not be evicted will not be, and that those who need to move can do so with a soft landing.
For more information, visit www.HousingJusticeAlliance.org.
Media inquiries can be directed to Melanie Shakarian, Esq. at email@example.com or 216-215-0074.
I was denied public housing because of my criminal record. Can I appeal the decision?
What to Do When a Landlord Denies Public Housing Based on a Criminal Record
When you apply for Section 8 or public housing, you may be asked whether you or a family member have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.
If is the answer is yes, then the landlord may deny your application. But you may still qualify for the housing. If you want to challenge the denial, you need to ask for an informal appeal right away. The number of days you are given will be stated in the rejection letter. You count the number of days from the date in the letter.
You will need to write a short letter to ask for a meeting about the denial. Take your letter to the landlord’s office and ask the receptionist to date-stamp a copy of your request for a meeting. Keep the stamped copy. In the letter, you should ask for:
- a copy of your application
- the information used to deny your application
- a copy of the Tenant Selection Plan (TSP)
The TSP will tell you how long the criminal conviction will count against you. Federal law requires the time to be reasonable. The time may count either from the date you were convicted or from when you completed your sentence. Different landlords will look at criminal convictions for different lengths of time.
At the meeting with the landlord, you need to show that you will be a good tenant. You could show that your conviction should not count against you because it is from a long time ago. Also, you could show that your behavior has improved since you were convicted. Bring letters from teachers, mentors, pastors or others that say how you have changed. Certificates showing you completed courses or programs can also be helpful. You may want to consult with an attorney before the meeting. To find out if you are eligible for Legal Aid, please contact intake at 216.687.1900 or attend a free Brief Advice Clinic.
This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Maria Smith and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 2. Click here to read the full issue.
Apartment complex bills $2800 in sprinkler damage to grieving daughter: Euclid woman finally able to mourn mother’s passing without threat of frivolous suits
After Ingrid Perry’s mother passed away two years ago, the manager at the housing complex where they both lived gave Perry 15 days to get hermother’s unit cleared out.
“I was cleaning her apartment, and all of a sudden the fire alarm and sprinkler system went off. Nobody knew how to turn it off, so it was on for 15 minutes or more,” Perry said, “Everything was soaked, all my mother’s photos, everything.”
The loss of precious keepsakes was painful enough, but then Perry got a $1,500 bill for water damage and a threat to evict from her landlord.
Perry called Legal Aid, where attorney Maria Smith took her case and negotiated an agreement with the apartment complex that prevented her eviction if she agreed to vacate her apartment. The landlord also agreed to provide a neutral reference as Perry prepared to move into subsidized housing.
Keen to avoid both the fine and an eviction record that could jeopardize her new housing, Perry moved out by the deadline, received back her mother’s security deposit, and found a new home without incident. For the time being, Perry had some closure to a painful chapter.
But two years later, the young woman received another invoice from the corporate headquarters of the complex — this time for $2,800 in damages.
“It felt like they were tearing the scar off an old wound,” Perry said. “Didn’t I already go through enough?”
Perry had left her own unit in fine condition, with a housing inspection report to prove it. Yet the corporate headquarters were taking advantage of the way the previous court case had settled – “without prejudice,” meaning the plaintiff could file a future lawsuit for damages.
Perry called Legal Aid for the follow-up help and staff attorney Callie Dendrinos was her advocate. The corporate office alleged that she had hit the sprinkler head while cleaning out the apartment. At a petite 4’11’’ it was unlikely any part of Perry could have set off the sprinkler.
Dendrinos knew Perry had a strong case and issued a written discovery outlining the many holes in their complaint.
“It seemed they were hoping she wouldn’t show and they’d get a default judgement against her,” Dendrinos said. “When it was clear we were going to litigate this, they lost their appetite.”
With Legal Aid’s representation, Perry received her second favorable outcome as the plaintiff dropped the suit. “The news lifted such a weight off me,” Perry said. “I was finally able to move forward in my life.”
Did you know most eviction cases are over in only 5-7 minutes? Having an attorney by your side in court makes all the difference when your home is at risk. Yet, people lose their housing every day because they don’t know or understand their rights as a tenant. Special thanks to the Bruening Foundation, First Federal of Lakewood, Higley Fund, KeyBank Foundation, Murphy Family Foundation, Sisters of Charity Foundation, Ulmer Berne, and United Way of Greater Cleveland: all groups helped underwrite Legal Aid’s housing advocacy over the past year. Ms. Perry’s case would not be possible without their support.