To the Editor:
“Don’t panic: Good advice for first time renters,” the lead article in The Athens NEWS’ Rental Guide (Sept. 26, 2019), misleads, in that it suggests that the guide will help novice prospective tenants avoid the pitfalls of apartment hunting. Unfortunately, the guide fails in that it omits perhaps the most important aspect of avoiding those traps: the law.
The article omits mention of Ohio’s Landlord Tenant Law, Section 5321 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC). The dozen or so pages of this law, written pretty much in plain English, are organized into succinct chapters. Two of those chapters, “Obligations of Landlord” and “Obligations of Tenant,” provide, in list form, answers to many questions a tenant or prospective tenant might have. The law also sets forth the procedures by which a tenant may utilize the law to compel their landlord to comply with those legal requirements. It also provides means by which a landlord may compel a tenant to meet their obligations.
One section of Rental Guide article is entitled, “Read the Lease.” Yes and no. There are three parties to every Ohio residential lease, and the state overrules either (or both) of the other two. Most landlords know that, most newbie tenants don’t. Most landlords also know that there is no penalty for incorporating illegal provisions into a lease. Neophyte tenants often feel obligated to abide by their lease simply because they signed it; this is a mistake a knowledgeable landlord would never make. “Read the lease” and the law.
The article also leaves out the many powerful local resources available for tenants faced with condition problems: For students, the Center for Student Legal Services; for non-students, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services; for city tenants, the city’s Code Enforcement Office; and for tenants outside city limits, the City-County Health Department. A prudent tenant will have the word DOCUMENTATION (notices, photographs, letters, text messages, etc.) prominently positioned in their consciousness.
If a tenant is faced with a situation that is facially a violation of the Landlord-Tenant law, but which reaches beyond that law, discrimination by one’s landlord in any of its myriad forms: racism, sexual imposition, discrimination based upon national origin, religious discrimination, marital status, handicap, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may be turned to. And of course, rape, theft, arson, and/or assault mandate involvement of the police, campus, city, county or even federal authorities. A private attorney can be a valuable asset.
For all of the above, time is an essential element of success. Prompt notification under the Landlord Tenant Law and timely involvement of the authorities, are essential components of the law’s operation, but also true is the maxim “Better late than never.”