Landlords must follow specific rules and procedures when evicting a tenant in Ohio. Evictions are governed by the Ohio Revised Code, and different rules apply for students living in university housing and residents living in mobile home parks. This article will explore the options available to tenants who have signed a lease or rental agreement for a residential unit and who are facing an eviction for either not paying rent or for violating a portion of the lease or rental agreement.
Eviction Process in Ohio
Before filing an eviction lawsuit for nonpayment of rent or violation of a lease clause, the landlord must first give the tenant a three-day notice to leave or face eviction proceedings (see Ohio Revised Code §§ 1923.02(A)(9) and1923.04). Under Ohio law, the landlord is not legally obligated to accept rent during the three-day time period or accept the tenant's remedy of the lease violation in exchange for stopping the eviction.
If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit within three days of receiving the notice, the landlord must then file a complaint with the municipal court in the county or township where the rental unit is located (see Ohio Revised Code § 1923.05). Filing the complaint with the court begins the eviction lawsuit, also called a forcible entry and detainer suit. The tenant will then receive a copy of the complaint and summons, and the summons will have a date and time for a hearing. The tenant must appear at the hearing if the tenant chooses to challenge the eviction. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and make a final decision about whether the tenant will be evicted. It is at the hearing that the tenant must make any defenses to the eviction.
Defenses to an Eviction in Ohio
A tenant facing an eviction in Ohio for nonpayment of rent or lease violations may have several defenses available to challenge the eviction.
Landlord Evicted Tenant Using "Self-Help" Procedures
The law in Ohio forbids a landlord from evicting a tenant in any way except through the court system. The landlord must successfully win an eviction lawsuit before a tenant can be evicted. It is illegal for a landlord to try to force a tenant to leave a rental unit by shutting off the utilities, changing the locks, or interfering in any other way with the tenant's ability to live in the rental unit (see Ohio Revised Code § 5321.15). If a landlord evicts a tenant using "self-help" remedies, the landlord will likely be liable to the tenant for damages. For more information, see the Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Ohio.
Landlord Used Other Improper Procedures to Evict a Tenant
A landlord must carefully follow all the rules and procedures set out by the Ohio Revised Code when evicting a tenant. If the landlord fails to do so, then the tenant might be able to use that as a defense against the eviction. For example, a landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice before filing an eviction lawsuit. If the landlord does not give the tenant notice before filing the complaint with the court, the tenant can likely use the failure to receive notice as a defense against the eviction lawsuit. The landlord would then have to give the notice to the tenant and re-file the eviction lawsuit. This option does not stop a justified eviction completely, but it may give the tenant more time to remain in the rental unit before receiving a final eviction judgment from the court.
Tenant Did Not Pay Rent Because Landlord Failed to Make Necessary Repairs
Under Ohio law, a landlord is obligated to maintain a rental unit according to all building, housing, health, and safety codes and keep the rental unit in a fit and habitable condition. This means that, among other things, the rental unit must have working electricity, heating, plumbing, and sanitary fixtures (see Ohio Revised Code § 5321.04). If the rental unit needs repairs in order to stay fit and habitable, the tenant must give the landlord a written notice specifying what repairs are needed. The landlord will then have thirty days to make the repairs. If the landlord does not make the repairs within thirty days, then the tenant has several options:
1. The tenant can deposit the rent due and owing with the clerk of the municipal court in the county where the rental unit is located. The landlord would then have to apply to the court for the return of the money, proving that the repairs have been made.
2. The tenant can ask the court to order the landlord to make the repairs, possibly also receiving a court order to pay less rent until the landlord makes the repairs.
3. The tenant can terminate the rental agreement.
If the landlord files an eviction lawsuit against a tenant after the tenant has followed all the procedures for not paying rent outlined above, the tenant can use evidence that the landlord did not make the necessary repairs as a defense against the eviction. It is important to note that the tenant cannot withhold rent without the court's permission and must go through the necessary steps with the court before not paying rent to the landlord.
Landlord Evicted Tenant for Exercising a Legal Right
A landlord cannot evict a tenant for exercising a legal right. This is called retaliation. In Ohio, a tenant cannot be evicted for:
- complaining to a government agency about violations of a building, housing, health, or safety code that affects health and safety;
- complaining to the landlord for not fulfilling all legally required obligations (see Ohio Revised Code § 5321.04for a list of the landlord's obligations); or
- joining or creating a tenants' union.
If a landlord brings an eviction lawsuit against a tenant after the tenant exercises any of the above rights, the tenant can use retaliation as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Ohio State Laws Prohibiting Landlord Retaliation for more information.
Landlord Evicted the Tenant Based on Discrimination
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. Ohio has also adopted the Ohio Fair Housing Law, which includes all of the federal Fair Housing Act's bases for discrimination and adds ancestry and military status to the list (see Ohio Revised Code § 4112.02(H)(1)). If a tenant is evicted based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use discrimination as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.
Does It Make Sense to Fight an Eviction?
Without a strong defense, it might not be in the tenant's best interest to challenge an eviction. The tenant risks paying the landlord's court and attorney's fees if the tenant loses. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating. The best option for the tenant might be to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate. com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
Tenant Resource for Fighting an Eviction in Ohio
There are many resources available to tenants in Ohio. The Coalition for Homelessness and Housing publishes a helpful brochure on tenants rights. The Ohio state bar also maintains a website for Tenant/Landlord Rights and Obligations. Ohio also provides legal services for those that qualify. Even for those that don't qualify, though, Ohio Legal Services provides useful information for those who have questions about evictions.
Finally, your local court may provide useful information (eviction lawsuits are filed in municipal courthouses). See, for example, the Cleveland Municipal Court website. To find yours, see the Ohio court system's online directory for all the courthouses in the state.
When to Hire an Experienced Lawyer
If you have questions about your eviction case or defense or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.
For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Attorney.
Also check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for Ohio lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
More Information on Evictions and Terminations
For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).