If you pay your rent, it is only fair that you should be able to stay in your home.
Especially during a public health crisis that hinges on self-isolation and social distancing, housing security is an imperative for our community.
Homelessness, apartment shopping, and moving pose severe risks of infection upon not just the tenants in question, but the community as a whole. Evictions create not only disruption, hardship, stress, loss of belongings, possible homelessness, and increased vulnerability to the virus, but also require a displaced tenant to move her family which increases the risk of exposure to and infection of the virus.
It is therefore incumbent upon cities to step in to protect their residents by enacting Pay to Stay legislation. Without Pay to Stay protections, any landlord can evict a tenant for being just a day or two late on rent. This is true even when the tenant has the cash in hand and offers it to the landlord.
Approximately one in three Ohio households rent their homes, according to a 2019 report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. With over 1.2 million Ohioans filing new unemployment claims since mid-March 2020, many of these households have experienced a disruption in their incomes and delays in receiving unemployment and stimulus money to cover their rent obligations.
Without Pay to Stay legislation, the rental assistance programs that cities are setting up will not save Ohio’s tenants. Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) know of several tenants who offered all rent due to their landlord, but the landlord declined to accept and proceeded with an eviction.
Ohio law allows a landlord to evict a tenant who violates a lease agreement even if the tenant remedies the violation. So, a landlord may proceed with an eviction even when a tenant tenders the full amount of rent if said tender occurs after the due date.
Absent legislation requiring a landlord to accept rent offered in full after the due date, a landlord can reject late rent despite circumstances beyond the tenant’s control. This gives landlords a distinct advantage of being able to evict tenants who may have complained about poor conditions and lack of repairs who are now more vulnerable than ever due to job losses.
Ohio cities and villages can and should protect their residents by enacting Pay to Stay laws. Under a Pay to Stay city ordinance, an owner may not proceed with the eviction of a renter for non-payment of rent if the renter presents the full rent due.
One village in Ohio that ABLE worked with just passed an emergency, one-year Pay to Stay ordinance this month. Others are considering it. We urge all Ohio cities and villages to enact Pay to Stay laws.
Municipalities in Ohio have the power to do this under the Ohio Constitution’s home rule provision. Oh. Const. Art. XVIII, § 3 says, “Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.” Providing relief for tenants who can pay to stay does not conflict with general laws because equitable exceptions exist on which municipalities can expand. Accordingly, Ohio cities can use their home rule power to expand the situation where equity prevents a forfeiture of tenancy and eviction. Particularly during the COVID emergency, avoiding eviction by paying the rent and costs is certainly a reasonable exercise of that power. Exercise of this power would not conflict with the eviction statute.
City of Lima officials received a Pay to Stay ordinance sample drafted by ABLE attorneys. An economic crisis that pushes more people into homelessness will amplify infection risks across Ohio. Similar health concerns arise when households are forced into overcrowded housing—to double up or live in close quarters—to save money.
Ensuring that all residents are stably housed is essential to the continued success of slowing the spread of the coronavirus and maintaining social distancing as restrictions are gradually lifted in the coming months. It is also the right thing for City officials to do to protect its most vulnerable residents.
Reem Subei is an attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. ABLE is a non-profit regional law firm that provides high quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio achieve self-reliance, and equal justice and economic opportunity. People can apply for legal assistance by calling 1-888-534-1432 or visiting www.legalaidline.org.