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A third of Ohioans are renters. Small cities are taking action to protect them

A white sign reads "FOR RENT" in large red letters.
Shane Adams
More Ohio cities are implementing legislation to protect tenants' rights.

Lima city councilwoman Carla Thompson said many renters in her city are struggling against unsafe housing conditions. With an older housing stock and a growing rental population, she said tenants are vulnerable.

I have seen multiple roach and rat infestations that no human should be living through,” Thompson said.

Around a third of Ohioans rent apartments or homes. In Lima, the majority of people don’t own the properties they occupy. And Thompson said many struggle to get in touch with their landlords for repairs or emergencies.

The western Ohio city’s solution is to establish a rental registry: a list of all the landlords in the city and a way to reach them. In the state’s most populous counties, these registries are mandated. Now, a growing number of Ohio’s small cities are adopting the tool as a way to protect renters’ from unsafe housing conditions.

Springfield, Bowling Green and Sidney have all passed similar legislation in the last three years.

It's not that everybody deserves a chandelier in the kitchen, but everybody deserves to feel like they can walk through their living room without falling through the floor. Everybody deserves safe housing,” Thompson said.

Lima’s legislation

The ordinance will require rental property owners to register their contact information and where their properties in Lima are located. Thompson said it will help keep renters safe when emergency situations arise.

“If there is a house fire or shooting, some things might get turned off or shut down, like gas and electricity. Those aren't going to be turned back on until a homeowner is spoken with and notified,” she said.

Plus, the ordinance will mandate internal inspections for landlords who consistently violate codes. If a landlord has two property maintenance violations within six months or four violations within a year, they will have to allow city officials to evaluate their property for health risks.

Pink flowers adorn a lamp post at a cross section of downtown Lima. The sun sets behind tall city buildings.
Downtown Lima Inc. Facebook
Lima recently passed a rental registry program to keep landlords accountable in the small city.

Thompson said that’s to ensure tenants have healthy living conditions and that they’re not punished for asking for them. The councilwoman said many renters who hold month-to-month leases in her ward fear retribution from landlords when reporting property repair needs.

“So if we can do internal inspections without having the resident have to tell us that something is wrong, then it's no longer the residents' fault that things need to be fixed,” Thompson said.

Out-of-state landlords

Lima’s rental registry will also include more requirements for out-of-state property owners. Landlords who live outside of Ohio will now have to designate a property manager that lives in Allen County, or an adjacent county.

Thompson said it’s in response to many complaints from renters who struggle to contact corporate landlords with concerns.

“There are companies in Florida that have multiple properties here,” she said. “What we're saying to them is you need to have somebody in Allen County that we can reach during an emergency or that is here to fix these things for residents when they need repair.”

"Everybody deserves safe housing."
Carla Thompson, Lima city councilwoman

Many of Ohio’s properties are owned by real estate investors from across the country. In 2021 alone, investors bought around 33,000 single-family homes across the state in 2021 alone. That made up a little more than a fifth of Ohio home sales that year, according to data from Pew Research Group.

Thompson said she hopes their local registry discourages those without the means to provide a safe environment for renters from entering the industry.

“There are people who own homes here who should not be in the business.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.