Tenants given fair housing legal advice

STEUBENVILLE – Attorneys from the Southeastern Ohio Legal Services advised approximately 20 tenants Monday night to know their rights and the rights of their landlords.

The meeting was the latest is a series of seminars offered during April by the Fair Housing programs of Steubenville and Jefferson County as well as the Ohio Valley Fair Housing Center.

“The important thing to remember is this is a business. A rental relationship is not a friendship. When a landlord and tenant situation doesn’t go right, all of a sudden there are problems,” said Rob Johns, an attorney from Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

Tom Zaney of Southeastern Ohio Legal Services also participated in the seminar.

“When you are looking for a place to live, the rule of thumb is to pay about one-third of your income for rent and utilities. With the oil and gas industry, we are seeing a tighter rental market, and rents are going up. So it is important to think about affordability before signing a lease,” advised Johns.

“You also want to think about certainty versus flexibility. If you sign a one-, two- or three-year lease then you are locked in. A month-to-month lease gives you flexibility, but there is no certainty,” said Johns.

“You should also consider the location of a rental home as well as the reputation of the landlord. Talk to a few people and ask for their opinions. If you have four or five people saying bad things about a landlord, you may want to think about that issue,” continued Johns.

“The first thing you want to do is inspect a rental property. Check the plumbing and make sure the electrical system works. Be a curious inquiring person before you sign a lease. You want repairs made to the property before you sign a lease or make a list of repairs and give it to the landlord. And always save a copy for yourself. If you inspect the property and see it is dirty and in need of repairs, that is usually a red flag. Do a little homework before signing a lease. Before you move in, you should also take photos of the property and possibly a video,” advised Johns.

“A lease is a written contract. If you sign a lease always get a copy for yourself. We strongly recommend you make copies so you know what you signed. You also need to know the landlords telephone number and his or her address. You should make a definite agreement on when and how the rent should be paid. Sometimes you need to be a little assertive in obtaining that information,” Johns said.

“And remember, if no lease is signed, a landlord can give you a 30-day notice about a rent increase. Ohio is not a rent control state so a landlord can raise the rent as much as the market can bear, but only after a 30- day notice if you don’t have a signed lease,” Johns said.

Johns said any income-eligible tenant can contact the Southeastern Ohio Legal Services if they have an issue or concerns.

“Tom and I have about 30 years’ experience between us with landlord and tenant issues. We are a private, nonprofit organization that covers southeastern Ohio. We only work on civil cases, and our biggest area of work regards landlord and tenant issues,” he said.