CH council infringes on landlords' rights

Almost the very last action taken in Cleveland Heights last year by city council was poorly conceived. It was an unwarranted infringement upon legal rights of private property owners. It was a misstep. It may prove a sign of worse yet to come.

In December, council enacted a “Tenant’s Right to Pay to Stay” ordinance. It was designed to benefit tenants with financial problems. It provided that, at any time prior to the filing of an action to evict for nonpayment of rent, a tenant shall have the right to pay the landlord all past due rent along with what it defined as “reasonable” late fees. If the tenant takes such action, or at least tenders money, the ordinance purports to give the tenant an affirmative defense against eviction. It claims to be justified by a public health crisis.

The ordinance was well intentioned. But council ignored the harm it will be doing to landlords.

This ordinance is a public appropriation of private property rights of landlords without compensation. It conflicts with state laws that provide that if a tenant receives a notice to vacate for non-payment, the landlord is not required thereafter to accept rent and can proceed with eviction. Per Section 3 of Article XVIII of the Ohio Constitution, Cleveland Heights has no legal authority to adopt and enforce a local law that is so in conflict with general and statewide concerns. A court challenge certainly should be expected.

Many landlords are individuals just trying to make a living. They are not the evil characters of a Charles Dickens novel. All landlords have expenses, and their financial obligations do not disappear just because a tenant did not promptly pay rent. If council succeeds in postponing evictions for any length of time at all, a financial burden of delay will fall on landlords.

Some tenants may be suffering because of a public health crisis, but so are many landlords. Tenants need places to live, but landlords need dependable income to make such places possible.

For council to step into the middle of the eviction process is virtue signaling at its very worst. Eviction matters should be left to private parties and the courts. The city has no interest in being seen as prejudiced against landlords—that only will discourage those very people necessary to provide quality low-income housing.

Speaking for the ordinance, then council member and now Mayor Kahlil Seren stated that one of the tests of a society is, “Do we endeavor to protect the people who need protection, or do we abandon them? And I think this is a way we can add protection for people when they need it most.” He did not appear to believe landlords also are owed protection.

The landlord-tenant relationship is a matter of private contract. Seren and his colleagues apparently thought that their one-sided interference with free enterprise was justified. He and they were mistaken.

Alan Rapoport

Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council (1980–87) and as mayor (1982–87).

Read More on Opinion
Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 1:45 PM, 02.28.2022