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South Euclid Council explores possibility of law to protect renters who are late with payments

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 3/9/2021 Jeff Piorkowski, cleveland.com

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio —In September, 2020, a CDC eviction moratorium went into effect that, during the pandemic, has prohibited landlords or mortgage holders from evicting residents for non-payment. After one extension, the moratorium was again extended to March 31.

It is still not clear, however, whether it will again be lengthened to September, as President Joe Biden has sought to do by including the extension in the $1.9-trillion COVID relief package now under consideration in Washington, D.C.

With uncertainty in the air for some who rent, South Euclid City Council’s Legislative and Service Committee met in an online meeting Monday (March 8) to discuss a proposed “Pay-to-Stay” ordinance. The ordinance would basically continue the moratorium indefinitely. It would protect renters from eviction if they pay before an eviction hearing begins that month’s late rent and any added late fee. From the time of a late payment, the eviction process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months to begin, according to Councilwoman Susan Hardy, who chairs the committee and led Monday’s discussion.

The pandemic has caused some renters to miss payments because they have lost jobs or are late in receiving unemployment benefits. The city’s housing department brought the proposal to council, but Hardy, for one, says she doesn’t believe it should ultimately be approved.

“I am not in favor of it because I don’t understand the point of it,” Hardy said, after the meeting. “The origin of it was about providing relief because of pandemic-related late payment issues. And now, certain communities are trying to make this a permanent thing and in the beginning it was a temporary measure. I don’t feel it’s necessary. I just haven’t seen any evidence to support that it would solve any of our problems that we are currently having.”

During the committee meeting, Hardy agreed with Chuck Schulman, a past president of the Northeast Ohio Apartment Association and a meeting participant, who said that most landlords in South Euclid are people seeking extra income, and not large management firms. Schulman said that, in most cases, “Landlords are not going to evict for being a day late.” He said that eviction is pursued, “usually when (a tenant) is recalcitrant.”

Both Schulman and another meeting participant, South Euclid landlord John Savani, said that passage of the ordinance would, basically, not make a difference in how they or most other local landlords do business — by affording a tenant time to pay. “This law is not applicable to the market,” Savani said. Schulman reminded council that, while renters may face problems, many landlords count on rent as their income.

The state does not have a pay-to-stay ordinance. The town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, became the first to pass such an ordinance in June, 2020. It required landlords to accept a late payment so that a resident could stay in their dwelling.

Hardy said she is also in agreement with a letter sent by the Akron Cleveland Association of Realtors to Mayor Georgine Welo, in reference to the proposed ordinance. The Realtor group called the proposal “interesting” and stated that “it appears to be a win-win situation for all involved.” However, the letter goes on to list “concerns” about the ordinance.

The letter states that the city could be opening itself to potential lawsuits from property owners, as the ordinance may not be considered a valid exercise of home rule authority.

It also states a concern that the ordinance could be seen as “unjustified interference with a private contractual relationship,” and that trying to put a cap on late fees, as the ordinance does, is, arguably, arbitrary. The ordinance states that a late fee cannot exceed $25 per month, or 5 percent of the monthly contract rent.

Also sending a letter to Welo, in support of the ordinance, was the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH). NEOCH was also represented at the meeting by its Director of Strategic Initiatives Molly Martin.

Martin told council that one in four homes in South Euclid is a rental property, and one in three have a child under 18. She said that South Euclid has an interest in promoting rental housing stability for families. Locally, she said, “Eighty percent of evictions include Black single mothers with children in the home.” Pay-to-Stay, she said, is a tangible action cities can take to ensure housing and community stability.

The NEOCH letter states that Ohio is one of only five states where landlords can file eviction actions against renters who are just one day late on rent. Pay-to-Stay, NEOCH believes, would offer protection for such renters. Also, NEOCH notes, Pay-to-Stay allows for landlords to receive their money, and renters to stay in their homes.

Hardy said that she sought from South Euclid Municipal Court city eviction figures, but was informed that such records were not available. Hardy intends to seek to meet with court officials to discuss the matter of evictions, and to hold further committee meetings on the subject.

Deer culling completed

South Euclid Police Chief Kevin Nietert told council during its regular meeting Monday that the season’s deer culling had been completed.

Nietert said sharpshooting took place one day in January and three days in February. In all, 60 deer were culled. Eleven of those deer were taken by residents, 15 were donated to a veterans food bank, and 34 were donated to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. A total of 1,460 pounds of meat was donated to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

“The vast majority (of deer) were taken from Wards 1 and 2, with 10 taken out of Ward 4,” Nietert said. “It was obviously a very safe event, and we only received two complaints. One was on the first day and it was because a resident had heard a shot fired, and then the second one was because a resident was disturbed that the city was culling deer. But other than that, a very successful event.”

Welo said that a more detailed report is forthcoming.

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