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What is “Pay to Stay” and how does it help Cleveland tenants?

Mayor Justin Bibb and Cleveland City Council recently passed the Pay to Stay ordinance (Ord. 484-2022), which provides tenants a possible defense against eviction if they tender (or offer to pay) rent and legal fees.

Who does this ordinance apply to?

This ordinance is in effect for renters in Cleveland, Ohio ONLY.  Cleveland Heights, Euclid, South Euclid, Lakewood, Maple Heights, Newburg Heights and Akron have other variations of Pay to Stay legislation. You can see if this applies to you and find out more here: Pay+to+Stay+Technical+Guide+-+May+2022.pdf (

What does this mean if I’m facing eviction?

Tenants facing eviction for nonpayment of rent are given the chance to pay their rent, late fees, and court costs by the time of eviction hearing.

The ordinance limits the amount of late fees Landlords are allowed to charge—they may not exceed $25 or 5% of the monthly rent, whichever is larger.

Finally, Pay to Stay protects renters who are waiting for funds to come through from Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAP). Letters showing that payment is approved but still being processed will be accepted as tender of rent (or offering to pay rent.)

Pay to Stay does not prohibit landlords for evicting tenants for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. Pay to Stay is NOT a defense for other reasons for eviction.

My landlord hasn’t filed an eviction yet, but gave me a 3-Day Notice. They refused to accept my rent or refused to accept Rental Assistance. What do I do?

Document all attempts to pay rent and your landlord’s refusal. For example, if you pay your landlord in person, bring a witness with you who could attest at your hearing that your landlord refused the payment. If you had applied for Rental Assistance but your application was closed due to landlord inaction, save a copy of that confirmation. If your landlord returned your payment, save the payment. Save texts or emails between you and your landlord that show that your landlord would not accept your payment.

How does the Pay to Stay ordinance work in court? 

The Pay to Stay ordinance allows tenants to tender (or offer to pay) back rent, fees and court costs as an affirmative defense to their eviction.

An affirmative defense is an argument a tenant can raise to protect their rights. An affirmative defense leaves it up to the court’s discretion to order the landlord to accept money that is overdue.

If you attempted to tender rent BEFORE your landlord filed the eviction:

    • Your attempt to pay is an affirmative defense. You must be able to prove that you made an attempt to pay all past due rent and reasonable late fees, and that your landlord refused to accept it.

If you did not tender rent before the eviction filed and are planning to use the Pay to Stay ordinance as a defense:

    • You must tender (offer to pay) all past due rent, reasonable late fees and court costs
    • If applicable, provide a letter from a rental assistance agency showing that you have been approved for assistance
    • You may attempt to pay your landlord directly, or place your payment in escrow with the Cleveland Municipal Housing Court prior to the date of the trial. For more information about how to do this, speak with a Housing Court Specialist at 216-664-4295.

Can Pay to Stay help me if I don’t have all the money I need to pay my landlord?

Possibly. If you have already been approved for rental assistance from an Emergency Rental Assistance Program, you should request documentation or written verification from the agency that you have been approved. This documentation will be a defense against the eviction action.

It is important to know that your landlord is not obligated to accept partial payments. Tender of incomplete payments will not be a defense against eviction under Pay to Stay.

I’ve applied for rental assistance, but I haven’t been guaranteed to receive any payment. Can Pay to Stay still help me?

Possibly. Some Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAP) require the landlord’s participation before a payment can be approved. A denial of the landlord’s participation in the program may constitute refusal of tender.

However, if you don’t have a guarantee of payment from a Rental Assistance Program, the court may not accept this as a defense under Pay to Stay. Still show documentation of your attempts to get rental assistance, as your landlord may be willing to negotiate a deal if it means they will be able to receive payment from a Rental Assistance Program.

How do I calculate if my landlord is charging me too many late fees?

According to the Pay to Stay ordinance, late fees may not exceed the larger of $25 or 5% of the monthly contract rent. Additionally, a late fee may not exceed 25% of the portion of the monthly contract rent that a tenant is obligated to pay.

For example:

    • If your monthly contract rent is $1000, late fees for any given month may not exceed $50.
    • If your monthly contract rent is $400, late fees for any given month may not exceed $25.
    • If the portion of the contract rent that you are obligated to pay each month is $80, late fees for any given month may not exceed $20.

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