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New Columbus Law On Retaliatory Evictions Taking Effect

An updated ordinance passed by Columbus City Council in December to protect renters from being evicted by their landlord for complaining about code violations takes effect Wednesday.

Jim Letizia reports.  

Under the law, the city will examine the timings of evictions compared with code violation notices. And landlords must explain why they're evicting renters who raised concerns about rent increases or housing conditions. The penalty for a landlord who evicts a complaining tennant is a first-degree misdemeanor, according to assistant city attorney Katarina Karac:   

"Up to six months in jail, up to a $1,00 fine for retaliating.  And potentially even have them placed on probation to ensure they don't retaliate against future tenants.  And I do think that,  practically speaking landlords are more likely to fix code violations at their premises knowing that we have an ordinance that is comprehensive and has teeth to it.  And they may be less likely to evict a tenant because they have code violations inside their rental unit."  

Ben Horne with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus says part of the problem involves the city's affordable housing shortage.

"There's a desparation for housing, and we've heard tenants report that their landlords have said 'if you don't like it, you can move.'  There's a disincentive."  

Horne says the previous ordinance had been difficult to enforce. He says in many cases, landlords have worked around making repairs by evicting month-to-month tenants who contact city code enforcement. He says the landlords do not have to make repairs because there are not violations when a home lack a tenant. Horne says it will be easier to file charges against landlords who retaliate, under the new law.   

"If the tenants do vacate, then when Code comes back to re-inspect oftentimes they cannot get in because the home is now vacant - and if it's vacant it's not a housing code violation for the interior violations.  And then, after the dust settles, we'll see the landlord re-rent the property with those interior code violations still out of compliance.  So, the tenants and the property both suffer."  

Dimitri Hatzifotinos  with the Columbus Apartment Association says the group of landlords supports the changes.   

"These legislative updates will strengthen a renter's protections without reducing legal protections available to a property owner.  It's important to put the scope of evictions in context:  according to data collected by the Eviction Lab for the past five years, only about 4% of Columbus renters are evicted.  50 other U.S. cities have higher eviction rates than Columbus, including Akron, Dayton, Toledo and Cincinnati."  

Franklin County records show nearly 18 thousand evictions took place in the county last year.  

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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