Renters’ rights are not always apparent

Heather Bing

Discrimination and unfulfilled promises should not be situations renters encounter. But to some, their rights are not always apparent.

Tenants have the right to more than just paying the rent, according to the Fair Housing Act and the revised Ohio Code of the Tenant/Landlord Law.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from refusing to rent, providing different facilities or resetting rent prices to tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.

The Tenant/Landlord Law covers tenant and landlord obligations and rights, and it offers legal repercussions to both parties if those rights have been violated.

Eileen Stiffler, community development specialist at the Portage County Regional Planning Commission, said she receives questions from both landlords and tenants about their rights.

“I am sometimes told that landlords are practicing discrimination,” she said. “Fair housing is intended to be the right of every person to live wherever they want and wherever they can afford regardless of race, religion, sex and so on.”

Stiffler said 75 to 80 percent of calls are from tenants, while about 20 percent are from landlords.

“In most cases, the tenant is complaining about lack of maintenance, lack of security or lack of rent,” she said. “Landlords are complaining about late rent or trashing of the unit.”

While she can not offer legal advice, Stiffler often gives suggestions on how individuals can handle some of their problems before seeking legal repercussions.

Her advice is for each party to get everything in writing. Stiffler offers sample letter requirements and other information on how to notify a landlord or tenant in writing about a concern.

Sue Krane, senior marketing and management major, has rented in Kent under several different landlords. She said some violations of renter’s rights she has encountered include maintenance workers coming into her room without previous notification, water leaks that were never fixed and problems getting back her security deposit.

Krane said her initial security deposit of $250 was returned to her as $70. The bill listed maintenance problems fixed with the money, but she said she didn’t think the charges were right so she decided to seek legal advice.

“I just thought I would give it a shot,” she said. “Everything was very unclear. The bill had strange pricings for problems, and the costs were divided into fractions.”

Krane said she set up an appointment with Kent State Student Legal Services and met with a lawyer to review her contract.

“Even if they couldn’t do anything, it was a service I had already paid for,” she said. “I brought in our lease and paperwork and she (the representative) ended up helping a ton.”

The best advice for dealing with issues involving rights is to have a paper-trail, Krane said. She said each renter should also read the lease and know what he or she is signing.

John Lowry, property manager at Summit Hill Apartments, said he believes it’s also important that the landlord and tenant treat each other with respect.

“I have been the property manager here for 19 years, and I have maybe had one or two bad apples,” Lowry said. “I let potential residents know up front about my policies, and I treat everyone the same. I go above and beyond to treat my tenants with respect, and they show that same respect to me in the way they take care of my property.”

David Fodor, senior marketing major, said he didn’t know about his rights as a tenant and said he would make sure he knew more before renting again.

“Definitely the next time I go to sign a lease I will have that stuff in writing,” he said. “I don’t even know if problems I’ve had are in the lease. That’s where they got us.”

Fodor, who chose to not name his landlord, decided to rent because of the apartment’s location and because he was told there was a multi-million dollar renovation in progress. However, since July, the elevators have broken down, managers have asked him to shut off his water for short periods of time, and he is paying extra for a remodeled version of a room that still has maintenance problems.

His advice to potential renters is to carefully read the lease and know their rights as a tenant.

“If they promise stuff, make them put it in writing,” he said. “We really can’t do anything about it.”

Jamison Offineer, paralegal and office administrator at Student Legal Services said students can find out more information on renter’s rights by visiting their office in McDowell Hall or their Web site at http://org.kent.edu/sls/index.asp.

Since January 2005, about 138 students have requested services dealing with the Tenant/Landlord Law, Offineer said.

“Students don’t realize the landlord has to take care of things,” Offineer said. “They come in saying their heat has been off for three weeks or something hasn’t been repaired. A lot of times they don’t really know they have certain rights under the law.”

For more information, call Eileen Stiffler at (330) 297-3613 or visit www.hud.gov.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Heather Bing at [email protected]