RHINO is the Rental Housing Information Network in Ohio

Today in Ohio history

March 5, 1877 -- Ohioan Rutherford B. Hayes publicly inaugurated as 19th President of the United States. (March 4, 1877 was a Sunday!) Hayes was the victor in the Stolen Election of 1876 which ended post Civil War Reconstruction.

This week's rental housing news

  • February 22, 2021. canton rep.com. Massillon Council to discuss rental property fee hike. "Ramping up to an $80 collection fee could raise about $300,000, some of which could assist code enforcement operations each year. Funds may be utilized to pay for dumpsters to place outside rundown rental houses or apartments. That potential benefit aims to assist owners with cleaning up shoddy rental houses and blighted properties." Here's more.

  • February 22, 2021. BBC. Over-The-Rhine: Is this a model for urban renewal or a warning sign?. Thanks to RinaS for sharing.

  • Feb 22, 2021. Cleveland.com. Cleveland may consider tighter controls on absentee landlords to force them to maintain properties. "Members of City Council frequently complain that absentee landlords are buying and failing to maintain property in their wards. Several raised the issue again Monday with Donald and later with Housing Court Judge W. Mona Scott. Scott said tackling the limited liability companies is tricky because the law makes it difficult to pierce the “corporate veil” and reach the company owners. 'How to hold them accountable? That’s the question of the decade,' Scott said. One strategy might be for the city to seek liens against the LLCs, preventing the sale of their property. Scott said she can assess liens of $1,000 a day after representatives for a company miss three court dates." Let RHINO know if you are paywalled from this article.

  • FEB 24, 2021. WVXU. City Officials Denounce Charter Amendment To Spend $50M On Affordable Housing. "A charter amendment likely to be on the May ballot would require Cincinnati to spend at least $50 million a year on affordable housing. Advocates say it's long past time to act, while critics say the impact on the budget would be devastating. Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Executive Director Josh Spring says it's encouraging that council is talking about the crisis more, but he says talk isn't enough. 'With these issues, we often end up where folks say, 'Let's create a task force; let's do a study; let's put together a report,' " Spring said. 'If we don't take action, if we don't put real money into it, we're not going to get ourselves out of this crisis.' The city needs an estimated 28,000 additional affordable units. The current Affordable Housing Fund has about $1.5 million, not including an upcoming addition of $750,000 from developers of the controversial project at Liberty & Elm in Over-the-Rhine."

  • . February 26, 2021. Canton Repository. Search warrant helps explain Canal Fulton apartment explosion."Investigators say materials used in the making of butane hash oil may have sparked the explosion that rocked an apartment complex Thursday evening." Add this narrative to the discussion of screening for criminal background. It would be great if someone connected the dots to see if the landlord was following *reasonable* screening criteria, periodic unit inspections, and responding to tenant concerns.

  • February 26, 2021. Star Beacon. AMHA hires two new leaders. "Come mid-March, there will be two new faces at the Ashtabula Metropolitan Housing Authority. The Board of Commissioners has hired Jeanetta Price, of Cleveland, as its executive director. She will start on March 15. [...] Price was previously executive director of Union Miles Development Corporation, and has been active with a range of state and local housing and community development organizations, including the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. She served as senior director of programs for the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, and most recently managed residential services for disabled adults for the HELP Foundation. She is currently pursuing a master’s of business administration at Indiana Wesleyan University."

  • Feb 24, 2021. Cleveland.com. Lakewood City Council considers expansion of renters’ rights regarding evictions during a pandemic. "City Council President Dan O’Malley last week introduced a Pay to Stay ordinance that, if passed, will expand rental rights during the pandemic. The legislation specifically allows renters who tender their full rent, plus any additional late fees and court costs prior to an eviction hearing, to avoid removal from their home based on late payment." Thanks MollyM for the update.


Stepping up Code Enforcement in Ohio February 28, 2021.

After the Great Recession, a new awakening of activism around rental housing and rental rights arose. Now as the CoronaCrisis seems to be coming under control, there's renewed interest in housing code enforcement as a tool for family and neighborhood stability. Over the past two weeks, local enforcement have been in the news around Ohio.

  • On February 18th, WCPO reported on aggressive enforcement in Cincinnati against the absentee owner of a multifamily complex. "...advocates say the region’s shortage of affordable housing means far too many renters live in conditions that are unhealthy and unsafe." The investor owner of the complex lives in Florida, but controls dozens of limited liability corporations (LLCs) which, in turn, own substandard properties around the US.

  • On February 22nd, the Canton Repository reported on an effort by Massillon City Council to raise rental registration fees in order to provide more funds for inspectional services. "Ramping up to an $80 collection fee could raise about $300,000, some of which could assist code enforcement operations each year. Funds may be utilized to pay for dumpsters to place outside rundown rental houses or apartments. That potential benefit aims to assist owners with cleaning up shoddy rental houses and blighted properties." Owners have joined in the debate.

  • Also on Feb 22nd, Cleveland.com reported on a budget hearings at Cleveland City Council where the Department of Building and Housing and the Cleveland Housing Court raised concerns about around the problem of enforcing code requirements against out of town LLCs. "Members of City Council frequently complain that absentee landlords are buying and failing to maintain property in their wards. Several raised the issue again Monday with [B&H Director] Donald and later with Housing Court Judge W. Mona Scott. Scott said tackling the limited liability companies is tricky because the law makes it difficult to pierce the 'corporate veil' and reach the company owners. 'How to hold them accountable? That’s the question of the decade,' Scott said. One strategy might be for the city to seek liens against the LLCs, preventing the sale of their property."

Most cities' code enforcement is based on voluntary compliance. The city identifies a violation, issues a warning or ticket to the property owner and then waives the financial penalty when the violation is corrected. Very few cases end up in court usually only after repeated offenses and non cooperation. This is a money losing proposition for cities that to pay inspectors only to see owners pay a "wrist slap" penalty or have the charges "nallied" after "voluntary" compliance.

At the Cleveland budget hearings, more than one Councilman suggested that making scofflaws pay for their violations could generate revenue for more inspections. More revenue for inspections is the principle reason behind Massillon's move to increase rental registration.

Another barrier to effective enforcement is the fact that housing departments need the permission of the owner or a tenant to make an interior inspection. Without owner or tenant cooperation, cities must obtain a search warrant to do an inspection. Catch 22: you can't get a warrant from a judge without some prior evidence of the conditions that need to be inspected.

Asking a tenant to complain and permit access puts the tenant at risk of retaliation or worse. The inspector might find the home uninhabitable and require the tenant to move. The WCPO story profiles some courageous tenants who decided that they have "nothing left to lose."

At the Cleveland Budget Hearing, Director Donald revealed that there had been a dramatic drop in tenant complaints in 2020, most likely because tenants were falling behind in rent during the Corona Recession. At the same time, the City suspended its routine "health and safe" inspections when the pandemic hit. Cleveland's plan to inspect every rental property every 5 years is now at least one year behind schedule.