Officials in Columbus strengthened a city law protecting tenants to prevent landlords from evicting renters for complaining about housing issues.
The updated law, which was approved earlier this month, takes effect in January. The Columbus Dispatch reported that landlords are compelled to explain why they're evicting renters who raised concerns about rent increases or housing conditions.
Franklin County leads the state with over 18,000 eviction cases filed annually. The city's high rental demand and gaps in affordable housing benefit landlords, according to Legal Aid Society of Columbus attorney Melissa Benson.
Tinnisha Wilkerson is one of city's residents involved in legal dispute with a landlord. Wilkerson claims her lease was terminated after she filed a complaint about poor conditions in her rental home.
"Why is it so hard for a landlord to give us a decent place to live?" Wilkerson questioned.
Columbus' anti-retaliation ordinance was difficult to enforce, according to Benson. In many cases landlords worked around making repairs by evicting month-to-month tenants who contact city code enforcement, Benson said. The landlords don't have to make repairs because there aren't any violations when homes don't have a tenant.
"Essentially the case gets closed," added Benson.
No one testified against the proposal before council approved the update, according to advocates. Attorney Dimitri Hatzifotinos submitted testimony on behalf of the Columbus Apartment Association.
"Responsible landlords who are members of CAA work hard to keep residents stably housed," Hatzifotinos said. "From our perspective, evictions are actions of last resort," he added.
It will be easier to file charges against retaliating landlords, according to housing advocates.