It is important for tenants to know that all landlords are not bad and it is just as important for landlords to know that all tenants are not bad, each must be judged on a case by case basis and according to their actions. The golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is very important in all relationships, including tenant-landlord relationships.

The following information highlights the finer points of the Ohio Tenant-Landlord Law, including an overview of fair housing laws. It is imperative that both tenants and landlords know their respective rights and responsibilities under these laws.

If you have questions about your tenant-landlord and/or fair housing rights, please feel free to contact us at the Fair Housing Advocates Association (330-253-2450 or blacurr@fairhousingadvocates.com).

The Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA) seeks to be accurate in providing general housing information to prospective and existing tenants and landlords, home seekers, housing providers, and the general public. It recognizes that errors may occur and that these errors will be corrected when discovered. The information presented in this book is only intended to provide its readers with information and guidance. An attorney should be contacted if legal advice is needed.

Copyright © 1994 FHAA

Ohio, in wanting to protect the integrity of the tenant-landlord relationship, in 1974 passed Ohio Revised Code 5321which became the state’s Tenant-Landlord Law.

This new comprehensive law not only pre-empted local Tenant-Landlord Laws and mandated responsibilities for both tenants and landlords, but it established new legal, moral and ethical guidelines, which included:

  1. Prohibiting retaliatory evictions by landlords.
  2. Providing an escrow process for withholding rent.
  3. Prohibiting certain lease clauses.
  4. Regulating security deposits.
  5. Establishing specific means by which to evict a tenant.


The following covers some of the primary sections of Ohio Revised Code 5321, which has a total of 19 sections covering topics from landlord and tenant responsibilities to security deposits and termination of tenancies.

I. LANDLORD RESPONSIBILITIES
A. SECTION 5321.04 – LANDLORD RESPONSIBILITIES This section of the law states that landlords must do all of the following:

  1. Comply with all building, health, and safety codes.
  2. Make all repairs and keep the premises in a safe and habitable condition, including common areas.
  3. Maintain all electrical, plumbing, and heating systems, etc. in good and safe condition.
  4. When owner of four or more properties in same complex or structure, must provide trash containers and removal.
  5. Supply heat and reasonable amounts of hot water, except where these are in exclusive control of the tenant.
  6. Give at least 24 hours notice of his intent to enter a tenant’s dwelling.

Case Relevance:

Improper Entry

T.K.D. Enterprise v. Zimmerman 1998 Ohio App. LEXIS 3167 (Ohio Ct. App. 7/2/98)

Tenant had complained to the landlord about maintenance workers entering her apartment to make repairs without notice. She requested that she be given 24 hours notice in the future, but on next visits the workers failed to give her notice. The tenant vacated the unit and told the landlord that she was breaking the lease because of the unauthorized entry. The owner sued her in small claims court for two months rent and related expenses. The tenant filed a counterclaim asking for the return of her deposit, including double damages. The Court of Appeals ruled that she had the right to terminate her lease because the landlord had a responsibility to give a reasonable notice of 24 hours before entering an apartment. Since the tenant complained in writing and the offense happened again, the tenant had the right to terminate the lease and the landlord had no right to recover lost rent. Spencer v. Blackmon (Ohio Mun 1985) 22 Ohio Misc.2d 52, 490 N.E.2d 943, 22 O.B.R. 403. The court ruled that under a claim of an emergency, a landlord may not enter a leased premises without notice to install smoke detectors required by city code.

Simon v. D’Orio, No. 11313 (9th Dist Ct. App, Summit, 3-28-84). Court of Appeals ruled that where a tenant has paid for repairs to the leased property which were required to bring the housing into fire code compliance, the tenant is entitled to set-off the amount paid for repairs against past due rent.

First Continental-Robinwood Assoc. (Ohio 1994) 71 Ohio St.3d 414, 644 N.E.2d 291. The court ruled that the obligations imposed under ORC 5321 on a landlord extend to tenants and to other people who are lawfully upon the premises.


B. SECTION 5321.02 – PROHIBITED LANDLORD ACTIVITY

This section of the law states that a landlord cannot retaliate against a tenant by threatening or bringing an eviction action, decreasing services, or increasing rent because the tenant has:
  1. Complained to the Health Department, a fair housing agency, or any governmental agency regarding a housing code violation, etc., the landlord’s failure to honor his obligations, or has joined a tenant’s union.

    ** A landlord may increase rent to cover increases in costs, etc.
    Case Relevance: Spencer v. Blackmon (Ohio Mun. 1985) 22 Ohio Misc.2d 52, 490 N.E.2d 943, 22 O.B.R. 403. A court ruled that a landlord’s eviction of a tenant for the tenant’s refusal to give the landlord a passkey is a retaliatory eviction because the landlord has no right to passkeys to a tenant’s apartment.

    C. SECTION 5321.15 – REMEDIES DENIED TO LANDLORDS

This section of the law denies certain remedies to landlords who want to regain possession o

f their rental property outside the guidelines of Ohio Tenant-Landlord Law.

First, it prohibits landlords from engaging in any activity, including terminating utilities or services, changing the locks, or threatening any unlawful act for the purpose of taking possession of a unit without having been authorized to do so by a court.

Case relevance: Thomas v. Papdelis (Medina 1984) 16 Ohio App.3d 359, 476 N.E.2d 726, 16 O.B.R. 413 – The court ruled that a lease term allowing a landlord to lock tenants out of their apartments for failure to pay rent was unconscionable and unenforceable.

Second, it prohibits landlords from seizing the furnishings or possessions of a tenant (even one who has been evicted by the courts) for the purpose of recovering rent payments, etc.

II. TENANT RESPONSIBILITIES
A. SECTION 5321.05 – TENANT RESPONSIBILITIES


This section of the law covers the obligations of all who are tenants of rental property. A tenant is anyone who under a rental agreement (oral or written) is entitled to use and occupy property to the exclusion of others.

This section states that all tenants are required to:

  1. Keep his apartment, house, or room in a safe and clean condition.
  2. Dispose of all trash and garbage in a safe and sanitary manner.
  3. Keep all plumbing fixtures in a clean condition.
  4. Use all electrical and plumbing fixtures properly.
  5. Comply with all health, housing, and safety codes.
  6. Personally refrain, and forbid any guests or friends from intentionally or negligently destroying, defacing, damaging, or removing any fixture, appliance, or other part of the apartment, house, etc.
  7. Maintain in good working order and condition, all appliances, including stove, refrigerator, etc.
  8. Conduct himself and require other persons on the premises with his consent to conduct themselves in a manner which will not disturb their neighbor’s peaceful enjoyment of the premises.
  9. Not to unreasonably withhold the right of the landlord to enter the property to inspect the property, make repairs, decorate, etc.

    B. SECTION 5321.07 – RENT WITHHOLDING


    This section of the law gives tenants the opportunity to remedy situations in which the landlord has failed to honor his obligations under the law or under the terms of the rental agreement.

    In such situations a tenant may give the landlord a written notice which specifies the violations. If the landlord, after receiving the notice, fails to remedy the situation within a reasonable amount of time (no more than 30 days) depending upon the severity of the problem, the tenant may take a copy of the letter together with the rent money to the clerk of courts.

    Not only can the tenant escrow rent money with the courts, he or she can ask the court to make the landlord do the repairs or remedy the situation, terminate the agreement, or decrease the rent until the repairs are done.

    ** Tenants must be current in paying rent in order to participate in the escrow procedure.

    III. MISCELLANEOUS
    A. SECTION 5321.16 – SECURITY DEPOSITS


    This section of the law covers security deposits, which are defined as any deposits of money or property to secure performance by the tenant under a rental agreement.

    The law states that any deposit in excess of $50 or one month’s rent, whichever is greater, bears interest @ 5% annually, if the tenant lives in the dwelling at least six months.

    Upon receiving the apartment or house back from the tenant, the landlord must itemize and identify every deduction from the deposit and give the tenant written notice of such within 30 days after the tenant has vacated. In addition, the tenant should provide the landlord with a forwarding address for this purpose.

    If the landlord fails to return the deposit and/or a letter of disposition, after the 30 day period, or wrongfully withholds any of the deposit, the tenant may sue and recover double damages (the amount due him plus an amount equal to the amount due).

    ** No tenant can make the double damage claim if he or she fails to give the landlord a forwarding address.

    Case Relevance: Weingarden v. Eagle Ride Condominiums (Ohio Mun. 1995) 71 Ohio Misc.2d 7, 6534 N.E.2d 759. The court ruled that a landlord’s failure to itemize deductions from security deposit can subject him to damages double the amount wrongfully withheld plus attorney fees.

    Landlord's $25 deduction for carpet cleaning costs him $390.00 later.

    Landlord Breton Builder Co., Ltd., leased an apartment to Jeremie Chaney, a Bowling Green University student. The lease between the two did not contain a provision requiring the tenant to steam clean/shampoo the carpet. However, the landlord provided all tenants with move-out instructions indicating that carpets were to be swept and shampooed with a steam cleaner. If this was not done, the landlord would do it at a cost of $25.00 to $35.00 per apartment.

    The Sixth District Court of Appeals found that the landlord's move-out instruction sheet indicated to tenants that if they did not steam clean the carpets, the landlord would charge them to do it. Such an automatic deduction from a tenant's security deposit is unlawful if the landlord fails to provide the tenant with an itemization setting forth the specific need for the deduction.

    That specific need must result from damage to the carpeting that is beyond normal wear and tear. In this case, the tenant had taken photos of the carpet prior to move-out and had a witness to testify about the condition of the carpeting at move-out. The landlord could only offer his opinion that the carpet needed professional cleaning. The trial court did not buy the landlord's story and awarded the BGSU student $50 in damages and $340 in attorney's fees.

    A landlord must justify the need for steam-cleaning by providing a written itemization of deductions from the security deposit and the reason for each deduction. A landlord cannot automatically charge a tenant for steam-cleaning carpeting. A landlord must indicate that there has been damage to the carpeting beyond normal wear and tear that justified steam-cleaning.

    In a similar case, landlord kept tenant's security deposit, insisting that Tenant had not fulfilled a provision in the rental agreement which required Tenant to clean the carpets at the Apartment. The Sixth District Court of Appeals in Lucas County held that a provision in a lease agreement automatically forfeited all or a portion of the security deposit was in conflict with Ohio Revised Code section 5321.16. The Court held that, in this case, automatically requiring carpet cleaning was unenforceable. The Court reasoned that Landlord could only charge for carpet cleaning that actually needed to be done, regardless of what the rental agreement said. So, regardless of what the rental agreement says about carpet cleaning, tenants will only be charged for carpet cleaning if the damage to the carpet exceeds normal wear and tear.

    Albreqt v. Chen (1983), 17 Ohio App. 3d 79.

    DOUBLE DAMAGES AWARDED


    In this case, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that once a court determines that the landlord has wrongfully withheld all or a part of the security deposit, the trial court must award double damages and attorney's fees to the tenant.

    Tenant Smith rented an apartment from Landlord Padgett for Three Hundred ($300.00) per month. Landlord failed to make certain promised repairs, and Tenant argued that this reduced the rental value of the apartment to Two Hundred Twenty Five Dollars ($225.00) per month. The trial court did not allow the tenant to testify as to his opinion of the rental value of the apartment. On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court held that:

    Where a landlord breaches a promise to make repairs to the leased premises and the tenant does not elect to make the repairs, the measure of damages is the difference between the rental value of the premises in their unrepaired condition and what the rental value would have been had the promised repairs been made. The stipulated rent amount is presumptive evidence of the rental value of the premises as repaired, but it is not conclusive. A lessee of real property is competent to give opinion testimony as to the rental value of the leased premises.

    After the lease ended, Tenant moved out and gave written notice of his forwarding address for the return of his security deposit to Landlord. The landlord provided a written itemization within 30 days, but this itemization was found by the trial court to be inaccurate, and that Tenant should have been given back more money that he was. The tenant was then awarded that money, but not double damages or attorney fees. On appeal of this issue, the Ohio Supreme Court found that:

    Under R.C. 5321.16(B) and (C), a landlord who wrongfully withholds a portion of a tenant's security deposit is liable for damages equal to twice the amount wrongfully withheld and for reasonable attorney fees. Such liability is mandatory even if the landlord gave the tenant an itemized list of deductions from the deposit pursuant to R.C. 5321.16(B).

    Smith v. Padgett (1991), 32 Ohio St.3d 344. (source: www.ohiolandlordtenant.com)

    B. SECTION 5321.17 – TERMINATING TENANCIES

    (When No Lease Violation Exists)

    This section requires that a tenant or a landlord give the other proper notice, a 7-day notice, a 30-day notice, depending upon the circumstances involved.

    If the tenancy is a week to week tenancy, the tenant or landlord must give the other at least 7 days notice.

    If the tenancy is a month to month tenancy, the tenant or landlord must give the other at least 30 days notice prior to the periodic rental date. Basically, either party should give notice to the other, preferably in writing, on or before the last day of the month preceding the month in which the party is to vacate. For example, if a landlord wants a tenant to vacate by December 1, he or she should give notice to the tenant by no later than October 31.

    If a tenant fails to vacate after receiving proper notice and continues to maintain possession of the housing after the termination date, the landlord cannot self-evict or harass (See Section 5321.15) the tenant, but must follow the procedures outlined in Section 1923 and pursue an eviction action through the courts.

    IV. EVICTION RELATED ISSUES


    Evictions of tenants by landlords may not be carried out unless the eviction has been authorized by a court. Self-help evictions, in which landlords evict tenants without legal action, and constructive evictions, in which a tenant’s occupancy and possession of housing is disturbed and made unfit by the landlord, are improper. ORC 1923 provides information and guidance on eviction procedures. Sections of ORC 1923 are highlighted as follows.

    A. SECTION 1923.01 – Jurisdiction in forcible entry and detainer; definitions


    This section provides that county, municipal, or common pleas courts within jurisdiction may hear eviction actions within two (2) years after the cause of action has taken place. It also defines the following terms tenant, landlord, park operator, residential premises, rental agreement, and controlled substance.

    B. SECTION 1923.02 – Persons subject to forcible entry and detainer action

    This section provides information on what persons may be subject to eviction action via forcible entry and detainer action. Persons who are covered under this section include, but are not limited to:

    1. Tenants or manufactured home park residents holding over their terms.
    2. Tenants or manufactured home park residents in possession under an oral tenancy, who are in default in the payment of rent.
    3. Defendants who occupy lands or tenements without color of title.
    4. Tenants who fail to vacate residential premises within 3 days after being notified by the landlord of illegal activity regarding controlled substances at the premises that resulted in the landlord giving the tenant the notice required by section C of ORC 5321.17.
    5. Tenants, their household members or guests, who have been determined by a court to have engaged in illegal activity relating to controlled substances.
    6. Tenants who have breached an obligation imposed upon them by a written rental agreement.
    7. Manufactured home park residents who have committed two material violations of the rules of the park, of the public health council, or of the applicable state and local health and safety codes and who have been notified of the violations in compliance with ORC 3733.13.
    8. Tenants or manufactured home park residents holding under an oral tenancy who are in default in the payment of rent and who have been notified by the landlord as required under ORC 1923.04

    Case Relevance: Owners Management v. Moore (Lucas 1996) 111 Ohio App.3d 820, 677 N.E.2d 400. The court ruled that the landlord was not allowed to evict tenant for violation of lease terms in which tenant agreed not to engage in or permit unlawful activities in unit, on common areas, or on project grounds, on basis of illegal activity by tenant’s son, in which there was no evidence that the tenant knew of her son’s illegal actions.

    C. SECTION 1923.04- Notice; content; service, alternative in case of land contract
    (Notice: This section also applies in cases of non-payment of rent.)


    This section requires that landlords give tenants at least 3 days notice, that an eviction action may be started against them. This 3-day notice must contain the following language:

    “YOU ARE BEING ASKED TO LEAVE THE PREMISES. IF
    YOU DO NOT LEAVE, AN EVICTION ACTION MAY BE
    INITIATED AGAINST YOU. IF YOU ARE IN DOUBT
    REGARDING YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS
    AS A TENANT, IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT YOU SEEK
    LEGAL ASSISTANCE.”


    The notice may be served to the tenants via:

    1) Certified mail, return receipt requested.
    2) Handing a copy directly to the tenant or an adult member of the tenant’s household.
    3) Leaving a copy at the tenant’s residence.
    4) Certificate of mail (in case the certified mail is not picked up or delivered).

    It is important that landlords know that no court action can be filed until after the three (3) day period is up. When counting the three (3) day period, landlords may not count:

    1) The first day of service.
    2) Weekends or holidays.

    After the 3-day period has expired, landlords can file forcible entry and detainer complaints (See Exhibit A) with the Clerk of Courts which will schedule a hearing before the court.

    If during the court hearing, the court allows the writ to be issued (grants the landlord the right to evict), landlords must file for a writ (See Exhibit B) to recover the housing back from the tenant.

    Case Relevance: Cornerstone Companies v. Zipkin (Ohio Mun. 1989) 60 Ohio Misc.2d 14, 573 N.E.2d 228. The court ruled that a landlord who accepted future rental payments waived the three day notice given to a tenant under ORC 1923.04 and any forcible entry and detainer action based upon the action would be dismissed.

    V. SUGGESTIONS FOR PROSPECTIVE AND/OR EXISTING TENANTS


    1) Always read and secure a copy of your lease before and after signing it.
    2) Before moving into the unit, do an inspection of the entire property and after moving in, do another, documenting the condition of the property. A copy of the inspection reports should be forwarded to the landlord.
    3) Always get the name, address, and telephone number of the owner and/or landlord.
    ** 5321.18 requires that a landlord give all tenants both his name and address.
    4) Avoid rental terms which call for you to share utility payments with other tenants, as if they move out the burden for the entire payment is on you.
    5) Avoid rental terms which call for rental payments to be paid by the quarter or semester.
    ** Rent escrow procedure will not work if the landlord already has his money.
    6) Avoid making payments in cash. Instead use a check or money order and always secure a receipt.
    **How can you prove that you paid rent if you do not have a receipt? The landlord could take your cash and then evict you for non-payment.
    7) All changes to the rental agreement, etc. should be put into writing and signed by all parties.
    ** We are human and do have misunderstandings, which can be avoided if agreements are documented.
    8) Always maintain copies of any correspondence sent to and/or received from the landlord. In addition, store copies at other locations.
    ** If the landlord illegally enters your unit and takes your receipts, etc., you cannot prove much.
    9) Do not accept legal advice from your landlord.
    ** He or she will not tell you anything that is going to hurt them.
    10) Know your responsibilities under the Ohio Tenant-Landlord Law (ORC 5321.05).
    11) Know you landlord’s responsibilities under the Ohio Tenant-Landlord Law (ORC 5321.04).
    12) Avoid arguments with your landlord and do not react out of anger, haste, etc. Think!!
    13) If the landlord does not do repairs after at least 2 requests, use the correct escrow procedure. (ORC 5321.07).

    VI. SUGGESTIONS FOR LANDLORDS

    1. Document. Have your rental terms, rules, and policies in written form.
    2. Inform. Make sure that tenants are informed of rules and policies. One way to ensure that tenants are informed is to have an orientation session with each tenant at the time they sign a lease or rental agreement.
    3. Give tenants at least 24 hours notice prior to entering their apartments. Notice must be specific on date and approximate time of entry.
    4. Conduct a move in and move out inspection with tenants. If possible, use a video camera.
    5. Conduct annual inspections of your property.
    6. Provide tenants with a move-in inspection form that they can fill out and return back to you within 30 days of occupancy.
    7. Instead of accepting partial payments from tenants, issue them a rent extension to pay all of the rent by a specified date.
    8. Leave a note if a tenant is not home when you enter to do repairs, etc.
    9. Enter a tenant’s unit during reasonable business hours (i.e. 9am-6pm).
    10. Do not evict or lock a tenant out unless an eviction has been ordered by a court.
    11. Give at least 30 days notice when changing the terms of a month to month tenancy.
    12. Do not require tenants to paint and clean carpets prior to vacating.


    VII. FAIR HOUSING POINTERS
    You should know that discrimination is not just the denial of housing, but includes any difference in treatment, exclusion of, or failure to offer a person an equal opportunity in housing because of their:

    * Race * National Origin
    * Sex * Religion
    * Handicap- (Physical and Mental) * Color
    * Family Status- (Children under 18 years, pregnant women, etc.)

    You cannot be charged higher rent or deposits, held to higher standards of credit, segregated to certain floors or buildings, etc. because of your protected class (race, sex, etc.)

    If you suspect or believe that you have been discriminated against, you should report it immediately, as this will protect the fair housing rights of you and other home seekers. To report such acts or ask questions about your rights, please contact:

    Fair Housing Advocates Association
    520 South Main Street, Suite 2541-J
    Akron, Ohio 44311-1010
    (330) 253-2450/(330) 996-4264-fax

    Fair housing remedies for victims of discrimination include:
    • Compensation for damages from humiliation, pain, and suffering, including actual damages.
    • Attorney’s fees.


    Examples of discrimination would include:

    • Denying an apartment to a single parent because of their child.
    • Telling minorities that housing is unavailable when it actually is.
    • Charging families with children high deposits, etc.
    • Refusing to rent to a deaf person for fear that he/she might not be able to hear the building fire alarm.
    • Enforcing a no pet policy against blind persons who use guide dogs.
    • Not allowing children (up to age 17) to use the complex swimming pool without adult supervision. Reasonable safety rules are acceptable.
    • Only renting to families with children under 13 years of age.
    • Requiring that mentally handicapped persons prove their ability to live independently.
This handbook is financed in part by the City of Barberton and the County of Summit through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, under the provisions of Title I of the Housing and Community Development Acts of 1974 and 1977.