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Fight Over Bill To Change Ohio’s Fair Housing Laws

A bill in the Ohio legislature would change the state’s law on housing discrimination. Supporters say it’s needed to protect landlords from being victimized by fair housing organizations. Opponents say it will weaken protections for vulnerable tenants. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

In 2008, 82 year old Helen Grybosky offered a property for rent but she advertised a “no pets” policy.  Among those who responded was a person who claimed to have a companion dog to deal with an anxiety disorder.  Unbeknownst to Grybosky, that person was a tester for a fair housing organization.  So, when the Northeast Ohio widow asked for proof of the medical condition and a $100 damage deposit, that fair housing group charged her with discrimination against a protected class.

“Mrs. Grybosky is the object lesson for what we are trying to do in this bill.”

That’s Republican State Senator Bill Seitz, the sponsor of legislation that would change state law in a way that he says more closely aligns it with federal housing laws.  But fair housing groups across the state are hammering the bill, saying it would allow landlords and property owners to discriminate.  Mike Smalz, Senior Attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center, says Ohio’s fair housing law would no longer be in compliance with the federal fair housing law.

“That has at least two very bad consequences.  One – Ohio would lose some federal funding that now goes to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission which is the state’s civil rights agency.  Secondly, it would jeopardize the interagency agreements that H.U.D. and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission have negotiated and implemented so that certain cases are referred from one agency to another in order to maximize the effectiveness of the two agencies.”

But Senator Seitz isn’t buying those arguments.  He says he’s asked fair housing agencies throughout the state to explain just how they think this bill will violate federal agreements.

“Would you please give us the specifics of why you believe this somehow guts and undermines the fair housing law and this they have failed to do to me.”

Seitz says the bill won’t cause the state to lose money or be in conflict with federal laws.  Even so, he says he’s asked the legislative agency that drafts bills to take a closer look at this one to make sure.

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