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Rental rights

Knowing your rights is the beginning of stabilizing your rental home

Where do rental rights come from? 

Woody Widrow used to say “rental housing is the second most passionate relationship you'll ever be in.” Luckily rental housing comes with some rule books that can help drain away a portion of the emotion. That renters have rights in law is relatively new idea. Last week, rhino!UP talked a little bit about the “common law” idea that a “person's home is her/his castle” which comes out of the common law. But common law is just “the way we've always done things” rather than a written down document that you can read and understand.

In Ohio, the Landlord Tenant statute (“OLLTL”) was passed in 1974 by a coalition of housing activists intent upon getting a written down (“codified”) set of ground rules for landlord tenant relationships. Kramer, Tobocman, Kowalski and Buchanan write: “This 'Transformation' of landlord-tenant law was in large part a by-product of the civil rights movement in America during the Sixties. The fundamental change wrought by the Act was the abandonment of some of the outmoded legal constructs of property law that had led to substantial inequities. In exchange, new rules assigned responsibilities to the parties on the realistic basis that only the landlord could rationally be held responsible for maintenance of the property. Prior to the passage of the Act, tenants had few rights with respect to the property they were renting and fewer remedies.”

OLLTL defines some basic concepts like what is a tenant and what is a rental agreemen. Then the law lists the duties of landlords and tenants (ORC 5321.04 and ORC 5321.05) and outlines procedures for getting repairs (ORC 5321.07), for terminating rental agreements (ORC 5321.11 and ORC 5321.17), and for handling security deposits (ORC 5321.16). A similar law codifies the relationship between manufactured home park owners and park residents. (ORC 4781) Another separate statute, Ohio Revised Code chapter 1923, sets out the procedures for removal of a renter from a residential, commercial or manufactured home park. But wait, there's more.

The OLLTL makes reference to local building, housing, health and safety codes. These local ordinances are “incorporated by reference” into the OLLTL. Local codes cover such issues as when is heat required in a residential unit, how many people may live in a rental unit, and what constitutes a heath and safety violation. For example, bed bugs are not a health and safety violation under the Ohio Health Code...but are considered a “nuisance” under Cleveland's local ordinance. OLLTL preempts local jurisdictions from making laws that conflict with the state statute. (ORC 5321.19) By implication a local government may regulate a rental rights subject that is not covered in the OLLTL.

OLLTL also leaves space for landlords and tenants to include in a rental agreement anything that is not addressed in the law. So, for example, OLLTL doesn't address the issue of what is a fair rent, therefore, how much a tenant pays is included in the rental agreement. Rental agreements may include the form of the payment, the timing of the payment, and any additional charges like late fees. Terms for “periodic tenancies” (eg. week-to-week or month-to month) are covered in the OLLTL (ORC 5321.17), but longer term rental agreements may include special provisions for renewal and termination. Knowing exactly what is in a written lease can reduce conflict.

Tenants often hear about "HUD rules". How do they work? For starters, any property where a tenant benefits from subsidy has an extra set of rules created by HUD, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the specific program that provides the subsidy. Just to make things confusing, there are different sets of rules for privately owned assisted housing, housing choice vouchers, and public housing. if a tenant receives housing through the USDA, there's another set of rules from USDA that are similar. If a tenant receives housing under the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, there's another set of rules from the Internal Revenue Service. It's conceivable that a single property may be subject to all three sets of regulations! These HUD, IRS and USDA rules generally cover such topics as how rent is calculated and how rental agreements may be terminate.

Many of the Federal program rules include “good cause” protections for tenants. That means that tenants cannot be denied housing unless the owner can show that the tenant violated the rental agreement. In Ohio, Low Income Housing Tax Credit "good cause" protections are in a lease addendum. The “sort of” exception is the Housing Choice Voucher program. Under a HCV, a landlord can refuse to renew a rental agreement without “good cause,” however the Housing Authority must continue the assistance unless the HA can show “good cause” for termination from the program.

Federal rules normally permit an owner to create “house rules” as long as the “house rules” don't contradict state laws or Federal rules and house rules must be “reasonable.” Recently “one strike” rules have been in the news. These are often really “house rules” which are adopted by owners. Sometimes tenants can challenge house rules that may not be consistent with Federal rules...or may be unreasonable.

What's “Fair Housing?” Federal, state and local fair housing laws protect tenants from being treated differently because the tenant belongs to a “protected class”. There are seven Federally protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status and disability. In additional there are two state protected classes: ancestry and military status. And, there are also protections for victims of domestic violence and for LGBT households living in Federally assisted housing. Some localities have also enacted local protections for LGBT households. Tenants who believe they have been treated differently because they belong to a protected class may file a complaint with HUD or with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and ask for an investigation. Often a private Fair housing agency can help.

So where does a tenant go for help? Asking a knowledgeable professional can be useful in sorting out which set of rights applies in a given situation. Keep in mind that many “professionals” can talk about the law, but only a lawyer can give legal advice. Also keep in mind that the landlord's attorney or the city attorney doesn't represent “you.” As Billie Holiday sings: “God bless the child that's got his own.”

Extra, Extra...Read All About It!
Ohio State Booklets on Rental Rights and Manufactured Home Park Rights and RHINO's Know Your Tenants Rights are appended at the bottom of this webpage.

 For persons living in Manufactured Home Parks
The Ohio law (cite) is a little different in order to take into account two different types of residency
  • Owners:  is a household which own their own manufactured home and rent a lot in a park. 
  • Tenant:  is a  household which rent a manufactured home on a lot in a park.
  • Resident:  either a tenant or an owner in a manufactured home park
  • NOTE:  Households which rent a manufactured home that is NOT IN A PARK are tenants under the Ohio Landlord Tenant Act.
Manufactured Home Park residents (owners and renters) are governed by the Manufactured Home Park Law.  ORC 4781

MHPs in Ohio are overseen by the Ohio Manufactured Home Commission.  Find them here.

In Ohio the eviction process is described in ORC 1923

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Ohio State Legal Services-info and finding help

Solving Rental Problems

Spencer Wells,
Jan 11, 2014, 11:57 AM
Spencer Wells,
Jan 11, 2014, 11:58 AM