Legal Aid Has New Tool Iin City Of Cleveland To Protect Residents, Neighborhoods From Blight

There is a new tool to help Cleveland improve the conditions of its housing stock. 

As properties change hands frequently, there are more out-of-state buyers purchasing homes to be used as rental properties. Absentee owners can easily neglect the buildings, allowing them to fall further into disrepair. To combat this, the City of Cleveland passed a set of ordinances in February, called the Residents First Legislative Package. The new ordinances will hold owners of rental and vacant properties more accountable for the maintenance of their properties.

“It’s easy to buy properties remotely if you are an out-of-town investor,” said Barbara Reitzloff, Supervising Attorney in The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s Housing Practice Group. “If the owner is in another city or country, they can buy properties sight-unseen and collect the rent by Cash App. They may never visit the property and try to manage it from a distance. This is bad for the tenants and for the neighborhood near those buildings.”

The new ordinances require owners of rental properties to register the property with the city. The owner must name a Local Agent in Charge (LAIC). If the owner is a person living in Cuyahoga or a neighboring county, the owner may be the LAIC. Otherwise, the LAIC must be a person who lives in Cuyahoga County. This agent is responsible for the maintenance and management of the property.

After registering the property, the owner of residential rental property must apply for a Certificate Approving Rental Occupancy. To be approved the property must be lead-safe, have no serious violations, be current on property taxes, and meet other requirements. If the city grants the Certificate, the property can be rented. If not, it is illegal to rent the property. If the property becomes non-compliant, the city can revoke the certification. The registration and certification must be done annually.

The ordinance also includes a Vacant Property Registry. Owners of vacant properties must register the property yearly, appoint a LAIC, and have the property inspected by the city’s Building and Housing Department. The owner must keep the building secure and the property free from eyesores like graffiti. The owners must let the city know what their plans are for the property. The city can require the owner to pay a bond in case the city needs to secure the property or perform other maintenance.

There are penalties for violating the ordinances.

“The city has more tools to enforce the building and housing codes. The ordinance expands the city’s ability to write tickets or violation notices,” said Barbara. “The city can issue criminal code violations to the owner and or even the LAIC. The city can collect fines that can be converted into a civil judgment and then a lien can be put on the property.”

 If you have quick questions regarding tenant rights and rental housing, call Legal Aid’s Tenant Info Line at 440-210-4533 or 216-861-5955. Need more help? Call Legal Aid at 888-817-3777 during normal business hours or by applying online 24/7 at lasclev.org/contact/.

Tonya Sams is the Development & Communications Manager at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Tonya Sams

Tonya Sams, Development & Communications Manager at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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Volume 20, Issue 8, Posted 1:24 PM, 04.17.2024