April 2022

Smart renting tactics rhino!UP for April 3, 2022

Whether you're moving to be closer to work or further from crime, Spring is a time for looking at your options. Whether you are seeking more room or less rent, some basics of homesearching can make a big difference. For many this year's homesearch starts from involuntary displacement, ie. being forced to move by the court or the threat of a court date. On Feb 28th, CNBC offered some suggestions.

  • Try to protect your record.

    • CNBC suggests asking the court to seal the eviction record. Some courts in Ohio have already established policies that permit sealing.

    • Tenants should know that credit reports often pickup eviction filings so that you could be "scarlet lettered" even if you won your case, or made a voluntary settlement and dismissal. Check your credit report before you start rental home shopping and challenge erroneous information.

  • Communicate with prospective landlords about your previous circumstances. RHINO adds:

    • One of the most powerful tools you have is a favorable letter of reference from a previous landlord. Be sure to include a way for the prospective landlord to confirm a written reference with the sender.

    • Include a letter explaining the circumstances of your last rental home. This tactic works best when you are dealing with a mom & pop landlord.

    • If you are dealing with a corporate owner or manager, your point of contact is most likely a local employee who is "just following the rules." In that case be prepared to appeal to a regional boss who has the flexibility to bend the rules based on your circumstances. Avoid sob-stories and emphasize that you have the ability to pay going forward.

    • Or...challenge the rules. Ask for a copy of the tenant selection policy and ask for the name of the 3rd party screening agency that made a denial recommendation. You are entitled to this information under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you can show that facts are wrong or that the "rules" have a bias against a protected class. you may get some help from a credit counseling agency or fair housing organization.

  • CNBC also suggests "Find Mental Health Services." Being evicted can be traumatic. Reliance on a peer group can make a difference. You are not alone!


Even if you are not recovering from an eviction, you will face increased competition when you seek new housing. As previously discussed in rhino!UP, the current affordability crisis is driven by speculators and investors who are flush with cash and driving up the prices of homes. This crisis inevitably trickles down to the rental market. Rental homeseekers have little control over THIS CRISIS, but may be able to work around the edges.

1. Sell yourself. Use your rental record to negotiate a lower rent. Most owners understand the value of a stable tenant with a regular paying record and no damages to their previous rental homes. That landlord reference will come in handy.

2. Offer to take a longer lease in exchange for a lower rent. Accepting a multiyear lease term (if you can do it) gives the landlord protection against a unit turnover.

3. Look outside your current location. Rents can vary widely between neighborhoods. Rentcafe.com looks at the pros and cons of changing locations in the article The Mental & Physical Health Benefits and Shortcomings of Moving to a Smaller Metro [Expert Interview]. Look for housing options in "neighborhood" newspapers rather than national real estate websites. Find the hidden gems in older urban neighborhoods.

4. Consider a roommate. If your peer support group (see above) includes a compatible person, you both could benefit.

At the same time that you are making deals, learn to identify and avoid pitfalls. You know the drill. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Rental scams abound when there's a rent squeeze! More on rent scams and tenant screening rights in May.


LSHKA could make a difference to Ohio families. rhino!UP for April 10, 2022

It's still shocking to know that Ohio's rate of childhood lead poisoning is more than double the national average. Less startling is that the State of Ohio has done little to address this problem. Only two Ohio cities have passed legislation protecting tenants from lead hazards. Both Toledo and Cleveland are struggling to implement these local ordinances. At the same time, Governor DeWine has implemented a series of steps that, while important, fail to mandate compliance.

The Federal Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act offers a way to bring primary prevention to Ohio children who live in Federally assisted housing across Ohio. Primary prevention involves getting the lead out of the living space before children are poisoned. Bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate. Both bills cover roughly the same ground:

  • Requiring the use of risk assessments, a more accurate evaluation tool than a visual inspection, to identify lead hazards before a family with a child under age 6 moves into the home;

  • Requiring public housing authorities, owners of properties with project based rental assistance, and landlords receiving Housing Choice Voucher payments to disclose and control lead hazards as well as providing notice to tenants about their rights under the Fair Housing Act;

  • Providing a process for families to relocate on an emergency basis, without penalty or the loss of assistance, if a lead hazard is identified in the home and the landlord fails to control the hazard within 30 days of being notified of the presence of lead.

The House version of LSHKA also authorizes a lead-based paint hazard demonstration project that provides funding for remediation of lead-based paint hazards in identified homes. This demonstration project would be funded at $50 million each fiscal year (FY2023 through FY2027). Senate sponsor Richard Durbin has reportedly said that he has no objection to this additional provision.

What does LSHKA mean for housing providers and advocates in Ohio?

  1. Since LSHKA covers Federally assisted housing that is occupied by a person who is under six years of age, a "senior only" building is not exempt if, for example, a grandparent has custody of a grandchild under 6 years of age.

  2. Since LSHKA requires notice to all other tenants in the building, tenant households will be warned of possible lead exposure.

  3. LSHKA will protect Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) tenants who are encouraged to move to the suburbs. LSHKA protections will follow them! This will make a difference in Cleveland and Toledo voucher holders who want to "move to opportunity" without losing the protection of their local ordinances.

  4. Smart PHAs will provide lead clearance testing (not just visual inspections) as a part of their routine Housing Quality Standard inspections.

  5. Property owners will be able to claim "no knowledge" when asked to provide full disclosure to prospective tenants.

Action is long overdue. Almost 30 years ago, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that Lead-Based Paint Poisoning: Children in Section 8 Tenant-Based Housing Are Not Adequately Protected, but GAO acknowledged that neither Congress or HUD was interested in pursuing legislative or administrative actions. However, since the Flint Water crisis GAO stepped up their efforts. In December, 2020, a GAO report issued a report entitled Lead Paint in Housing: HUD Has Not Identified High-Risk Project-Based Rental Assistance Properties. Then in May 2021, GAO reported: Lead Paint in Housing: Key Considerations for Adopting Stricter Lead Evaluation Methods in HUD's Voucher Program. And later last year, GAO reported on The Danger of Lead Paint Hazards in Two HUD Programs.

Ohioans will play key roles in moving ahead on this legislation.

  • HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge has been involved in reshaping the McEachin bill to address some HUD concerns.

  • Senator Sherrod Brown is the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee which will hear the Senate version of the LSHKA. Watch Secretary Fudge and Senator Brown exchange views on lead hazards on Youtube beginning at 1.00.48.

  • Joyce Beatty of Columbus is a member of the House Financial services Committee and is currently the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

  • Anthony Gonzalez who represents the 16th House District is a member of the Housing Financial Services Committee and the Problem Solvers Caucus. Rep. Gonzalez is not running for re-election.

  • Warren Davidson represents the 8th District of Ohio and is a member of the Housing Financial Services Committee.

  • Senator Rob Portman is a co-sponsor on the Senate version of the bill.

Chances of passage before the midterm elections are low, but now's a good time these Ohio officials to learn more about lead safe housing.

RHINOs who are counselling homeseekers with vouchers or who are advocating for safe, decent and affordable housing should be inviting Congressional candidates to hear the stories of families with children seeking a safe home environments. The lawmakers and wannabes will be campaigning right now.


The plights of affordable rural housing. rhino!UP for April 24, 2022

An April 12th article in Ohio Capital Journal explored the plight of manufactured home parks in the US. ‘Sitting on a time bomb’: Mobile home residents at risk in red-hot housing market explains how investors swoop in to replace parks with more valuable developments. It's not always more valuable housing. In Reynoldsburg, Ohio, fossil fuel vendor Sheetz is scooping up a park to build a super gas station. Earlier, Sheetz took three modest homes in Newark for a super station. Manufactured home parks (MHPs) provide the bulk of affordable housing units in rural communities. Many MHP residents who own their homes and rent their lot, face homelessness and the loss of their investment because there are fewer parks every year.

For a century, rural economies depended on cheap unskilled labor to work in agriculture and extractive industries. Today those industries need far fewer people. The recreation and travel businesses and clean industries like Intel in New Albany need a different kind of "worker housing." Rural land is worth more than the existing housing...or the people who live there now.

Rental inequity is endemic in rural communities. The affordable housing problem in rural areas is more than just predatory finance. The culture of rural areas resembles the European feudal system of farm laborers and landLORDS. Rural America has largely missed the change from the common law to a consumer-style rights-based system that emerged in the 1970s with the adoption of laws governing the landlord-tenant relationship.

Generational wealth and poverty still have a powerful hold on residents of rural communities. There's a broad acceptance of the persistence of poverty enshrined in the Biblical notion that "the poor you will always have with you." Owners have rights and tenants are transients. At worst, in rural communities, poverty is a sign of personal character. In its more moderate forms, the feudal mindset brands renters as "outsiders."

With ownership as the only pathway to social status, many rural households turn to marginal ownership like Manufactured Home Parks (MHP) or rent-to-own scams.

Consider the plight of MHP residents who own their homes, but rent a lot in a park. Many are unaware that park owners are required to offer "owners" a year lease that gives the owner protection against no-cause termination. Even if the MHP "owner" knows to ask for a lease, Ohio law only provides for a 6 months notice to move the home when a park closes. No relocation. No first right to purchase.

Another increasingly common form of rural "ownership" is rent to own contracts (also known as "contract for deed" or "land contract"). These schemes often leave "owners" totally responsible for repairs, taxes and code enforcement, with no legal protections. NPR reports on an interview with Peggy Lee from Southeastern Ohio Legal Services: "In rural Ohio, attorney Lee says given the severe housing crunch, a dilapidated home may be the only one some people can afford. But she finds it distressing to see clients invest thousands fixing up a place, believing it will pay off, when the seller never actually intends to turn it over."

The lack of tenant legal services and rental advocates in rural areas undermines a rights-based approach to housing. A prime example of the lack of resources available to rural renters was made clear this month when it was revealed that the State of Ohio might lose Federal rental assistance funds. "Ohio was at risk of losing that money because the U.S. Treasury has been reallocating rental aid to governments doing a faster job of kicking the funds out to people behind on rent due to COVID-19's economic fallout." The State designated the network of locally controlled Community Action Agencies (CAAs) to distribute this emergency assistance in rural communities. In their defense, the CAAs claimed that they lacked the staffing and the expertise to give away money to poor people! Huh?

Where do advocates begin making changes to rural housing justice?


Footnotes