Strengthening Our Landlord-Tenant Community

GOAL:

Work with local tenants and/or tenants’ rights groups as well as responsible landlords to protect the quality of our residential rental housing stock while also improving the relationships among our landlords, tenants, and wider community.

I will propose a resolution that, if passed, will create a landlord-tenant task force to discuss their experiences, challenges, and needs; review our codes and policies impacting landlords and tenants; and develop recommendations for programs we could institute and amendments to our codes so as to:

  • incentivize quality, responsible landlords in Cleveland Heights;
  • make it challenging for negligent and predatory landlords to be profitable in Cleveland Heights;
  • empower tenants to understand their rights and responsibilities;
  • protect tenants from negligent, predatory landlords; and
  • help connect responsible tenants with responsible landlords.

Cleveland Heights has many residential rental properties. They provide quality housing stock for the diverse range of people who call Cleveland Heights home, from retirees, to families, to young professionals, and everyone in between. With about 45% of our households renting, it is in our community’s interest to provide tenants with quality residences owned by accountable landlords, and to provide those landlords with responsible tenants.

We have all heard stories of delinquent or destructive tenants and of negligent or predatory landlords. They both are out there—across America and in our city. But we also have many responsible landlords and tenants here, and for their sake, we need to shift our narrative about our rental residences here in Cleveland Heights. So we need good landlords and good tenants to work together and with the city to minimize the number of problem landlords and tenants in our community.

Cities across America have begun to explore how they can make themselves an unwelcome place for negligent, predatory landlords and to help tenants better understand their role in fostering a positive landlord-tenant relationship. We can do the same here, bringing together our local responsible landlords with tenants’ rights groups to develop programs, resources, and remedies to work toward our goal of making sure that every rental property offers its residents a safe, high-quality, affordable place to live.

Here are just some ideas we could explore together (but through collaboration we can modify these or come up with different options):

  • Training courses offered to both landlords and new tenants to help them understand their respective rights and responsibilities.
  • Creating a single point of contact at City Hall for all tenant-landlord issues, as well as the ability to fast-track construction and renovation permits to minimize vacancy times between tenants.
  • Establishing a landlord rating system, based on various factors (e.g., no violations or complaints, rental business history), to give tenants the ability to better determine the quality of a landlord, just as landlords are able to pull credit reports and call references to better determine the quality of tenants.
  • Providing the ability for landlords in good standing to reduce or waive city fees, such as for permits, licenses, certificates, and inspections for their rental properties.
  • Creating a grant program for capital improvements to rental properties for landlords who enjoy a long-standing quality rating with the city.
  • Requiring landlords to notify tenants if a bank foreclosure action is instituted on the property.
  • Establishing a city fund to repair rental properties (using local contractors) in which an issue endangers the tenants’ safety, health, or ability to function within the home, and the landlord has been unresponsive in remedying the problem. The landlord will then be charged what the city paid, in addition to a fine. If the problem renders the property uninhabitable, thus forcing the tenant to find new housing and move, the landlord will be responsible for paying for the deposit and first month’s rent of the tenant’s new residence.

All of these are ideas, but before any legislation is proposed, we must begin with conversations with responsible landlords and tenants to better understand their experiences. Only by starting from a point of community engagement can we respond with appropriate solutions to address our community’s unique challenges.