Tenants' Rights in the State of Ohio

Ohio law governs issues such as security deposits and discrimination

Tenant in Ohio signing a lease.

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Tenants in the state of Ohio are granted certain rights by the state's landlord-tenant code, including the right to fair housing, the right to a return of the security deposit, and the right to notice before landlord entry. Other laws control habitability and retaliation.

The Right to Fair Housing

One of the most basic rights every tenant is entitled to is fair housing. Ohio tenants are protected by both the Federal Fair Housing law as well as Ohio’s own Fair Housing law.

A total of nine classes of people are protected from housing discrimination, seven of them found under the Federal Fair Housing Act. Landlords cannot discriminate based on color, disability, familial status, national origin, race, religion, or sex. Ohio’s Fair Housing law additionally protects classes based on ancestry and military status.

It's illegal for a landlord to take certain actions because the tenant is a member of any of these nine protected classes. They can't refuse to rent to the tenant, or lie and say that a unit is already rented because they don't want that individual to live there. They can't have different lease terms for certain tenants, and they can't post a rental ad that discriminates against any of them.

They can't include questions on rental applications that relate to a prospective tenant’s status as one of the protected classes, or infer that property values or schools might decline if the landlord rents to a certain tenant. They can't indicate to a prospective tenant that he won't fit into the neighborhood because he's not a member of a certain class.

Harassment or intimidation of a tenant in an attempt to get them to move because they are a member of a certain class is forbidden, as is increasing the rent for the same purpose.

The Right to Habitability

The term "habitability" refers to a landlord's obligation to provide their tenant with a safe and secure dwelling. The premises must meet all health and safety codes and have functioning plumbing and heating.

Tenants are entitled to withhold rent if certain problems are neglected and affect habitability, such as a failure to repair or maintain heat or hot water.

The Right to Return of the Security Deposit

Ohio doesn't place any limit on how much a landlord can charge a tenant as a security deposit. A landlord can make deductions from a tenant’s security deposit for four reasons: to cover unpaid rent, for damages in excess of normal wear and tear, to cover the tenant’s utility bills, or to pay late fees owed by the tenant.

They must provide the tenant with a written accounting of what was deducted from the deposit and why. Should they fail to do so or to return the deposit, either the balance remaining or in full, a tenant can sue in small claims court for up to $3,000.

The security deposit must earn and pay interest if it's greater than $50 or if the lease term is for more than six months. The tenant is entitled to receive this interest annually.

Ohio landlords must return a tenant’s security deposit and provide an accounting of any amounts withheld within 30 days of the tenant vacating the dwelling. The landlord must either return the security deposit to the tenant or transfer the tenant’s security deposit to the new owner if they should sell the property.

Laws Controlling Landlord Retaliation

It's illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant because they have taken certain actions, such as by raising rent, refusing to make needed repairs, refusing to perform necessary maintenance, or decreasing services to the tenant. They cannot harass or intimidate the tenant into moving or attempt to evict them other than for cause. This is referred to as a retaliatory eviction.

Tenants are permitted by law to complain to a government agency about a health or safety violation at the rental property without fear of the landlord retaliating. They can also complain to the landlord about a health or safety violation or the landlord’s failure to perform any of the obligations required of the landlord under Ohio’s landlord/tenant law.

Tenants are permitted to join or organize tenant’s unions to negotiate with landlords about the terms of lease agreements.

The tenant can either recover possession of the rental unit or terminate the lease agreement if a landlord is found to have acted in retaliation. The tenant could be awarded actual damages plus reasonable attorney’s fees when a landlord is found guilty in court.

Some Actions Aren't Considered Retaliation

A landlord can take certain actions that would ordinarily be considered retaliation if they do so for protected reasons. A landlord can increase rent to cover the cost of an improvement made to the property or because of an increase in operating expenses. They can file for eviction if a tenant has not paid their rent, but they must first serve the tenant with an "unconditional quit notice," giving them three days to voluntarily vacate the premises.

They also have recourse if the health or safety violation that the tenant complained about was caused by the tenant, by a member of the tenant’s household, or by a guest of the tenant.

They are not held to retaliatory standards if complying with the health or safety code would deny the tenant the ability to use the dwelling unit, or if the tenant is occupying the unit after their lease agreement has expired and is refusing to move.

A landlord can file for an eviction if the property is located within 1000 feet of a school or other daycare center and the tenant or someone in the tenant’s household is a registered sex offender or was convicted of or pled guilty to a child-oriented sex offense.

The Right to Notice Before Landlord Entry

Tenants have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their rental unit. A landlord does, however, have a legal right to enter the unit at certain times and for specific reasons.

A landlord must provide their tenant with at least 24 hours’ notice before she can enter the dwelling. They can only enter at reasonable times, generally accepted to be normal business hours. They can do so to inspect the property, to make necessary or agreed repairs, alterations, or improvements, or to provide necessary or agreed services.

They can enter to deliver a package to the tenant if it's too large to fit in the tenant’s mailbox, or to show the unit to prospective tenants, buyers, contractors, or mortgagees.

A landlord does not have to provide 24 hours’ notice before entering a tenant’s apartment in an emergency, such as if water from the tenant’s unit is flooding the apartment below.

The Right to Rent Disclosure

Ohio’s landlord/tenant code does not include detailed rules when it comes to rental terms, but it does require that a landlord must include certain terms in the lease agreement. A tenant legally agrees to follow these rules when they sign the lease agreement.

A landlord must identify anyone who is authorized to act on their behalf pertaining to the landlord/tenant relationship. The lease agreement should state the exact dates of the lease term, such as from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 for a period of one year. The lease should also state what happens after the lease expires. Does the tenant automatically become a month to month tenant? Can the tenant sign a new year-long lease extension?

The lease should state when rent is due and where and how the tenant should pay the rent. The landlord must usually accept at least two forms of payment. Common forms include certified check, cashier’s check, money order, personal check, direct deposit, or cash. Will the landlord come to the premises to collect the rent each month? Does the tenant have to go to the landlord’s place of business to drop off the rent? Can the tenant mail the rent? Can the tenant pay the rent via an electronic funds deposit?

Rules Regarding Late Fees

There's no restriction as to how much a landlord can charge for late fees, but these fees are in addition to the normal monthly or weekly rental payment and the lease must state the exact amount the landlord will charge.

Ohio’s law doesn't have any specific rules for grace periods. It's up to the landlord to decide if he'll allow a tenant to pay rent without penalty after the actual due date, such as for up to five days after the first of the month.

Rules Regarding Rent Increases

There's no exact statute on rent increases in Ohio, either, but a landlord must usually provide a tenant with notice before increasing rent. Thirty days before the lease is set to renew is usually considered to be "reasonable" notice.

These Are State Laws

This is by no means a comprehensive and complete list of landlord/tenant laws because Ohio counties and municipalities can also impose their own rules, and many do. You can usually find local information by going to your city's website.

The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.