Landlord-tenant rights and obligations

Reprinted with the permission of the Ohio State Legal Services Association

Q. What must my lease include?

A. There are no minimum content requirements under Ohio law.

Ohio law is actually silent regarding what must be in the lease. However, there are several statutes that have limits or exclude some things in a lease.

One statute is specific (see O.R.C. § 5321.13) and one statute is somewhat vague (see O.R.C. § 5321.04).

Probably the most important exclusion is that a landlord may not use the lease to take the duties placed on the landlord and transfer them to the tenant.

Q. Is there an example?

A. Yes. If the lease says that “if the furnace breaks down (through no fault of the tenant), then the landlord must pay for the cost of repair or replacement.” This would be a duty of the landlord to fix and the lease can’t change that.

Q. What if there is such a clause in my lease?

A. Then it is non-enforceable. The landlord cannot force you to pay.

Q. Are there things that all leases should contain even if state law does not require it?

A. Yes. Here are the minimum things all leases should contain:
• Length of time (1 month, 1 year or something other)
• Due date for rent (usually the 1st of the month)
• Grace period (usually five (5) days, none required)
• Late fees (amount and date it applies)
• Utilities (who pays for which ones)

Leases usually contain much more information, but at a minimum, you should be able to read your lease to find the information above.

Q. What if I do not have a lease?

A. You can still be a tenant under Ohio Landlord-tenant law.

Q. Must my agreement with my landlord be in writing?

A. No. There is no requirement in Ohio for leases to be written. Oral agreements are valid. Although it is recommended that all agreements be put in writing, Ohio law does not require that a lease agreement be in writing.

Q. Can I ask my landlord for a written agreement?

A. Yes, and it is recommended that you do so, so that both of you will know exactly what is expected of one another. However, you cannot demand that your landlord give you a written lease.

Q. Can my landlord have me sign a written lease?

A. Yes, a landlord can make it a condition of the tenancy that you sign a lease. A landlord may refuse to rent to a tenant who is not willing to sign a lease.

Q. What are my landlord’s obligations?

A. A landlord has many obligations. A landlord’s obligations come from two sources: Ohio law or the lease. Obligations assumed by a landlord in a lease may vary widely and cannot be addressed here. You should read your lease carefully.

Obligations under state law are found in the O.R.C. § 5321.04.

Q. If I don’t think my landlord is fulfilling his or her obligation, what can I do?

A. In Ohio, if a landlord fails to fulfill his or her duties, tenants have a legal process to deal with such problems. It is called the escrow process. Learn more about the escrow process here. Do not just withhold your rent! Although that may seem reasonable, it can get you evicted. The escrow process was designed to get landlords to fulfill their obligations but not put tenants at risk for eviction.

Q. What if I cannot pay my rent?

A. Failure to pay rent is grounds to evict in Ohio.

Q. Can I pay my rent late?

A. Maybe. If your lease states a grace period, then your landlord should accept the rent as long as you offer it within the grace period. There is no grace period under Ohio law. If you offer rent late, your landlord may accept it, but is not required to do so. If your landlord refuses your rent, you should expect that your landlord intends to file an eviction action.

Q. If my landlord files an eviction action, will I have to move?

A. Possibly. You have the right to defend yourself in court. You may want to contact Community Legal Aid in Akron at 1-800-998-9454 to discuss your situation.

Q. If I offer my rent late and my landlord takes it, can my landlord still evict me?

A. Maybe. This is very tricky. If your landlord accepts “current” rent, then this should be a defense to an eviction. The following are examples of some typical situations, but remember, not all situations are the same.

Example 1: Tenant’s rent is due on the 1st. Tenant fails to pay on the 1st. Landlord serves three-day notice on the 6th and files case in court on the 10th. Tenant pays rent for full month on the 15th and landlord accepts. Tenant has paid current rent and this should be a good defense in court.

Example 2: Tenant’s rent is due on the 1st. Tenant fails to pay rent on the 1st and now owes rent for this month and last month, for a total of 2 months. Landlord serves three-day notice on the 6th and files case in court on the 10th. Tenant pays rent for 1 month on the 15th. Since tenant owed rent for 2 months, this would be considered back rent and landlord could still evict.

There are many other variations of facts too numerous to explain here. Contact the Community Legal Aid in Akron to discuss your situation.

Q. Does my landlord have an obligation to paint my apartment between tenants?

A. No. Landlords often do so, but they do so because it is easier to market it to prospective renters.

Q. Is my landlord required to paint my apartment once a year?

A. No. Nothing in state law requires this and it is usually not desirable for landlords or tenants because of cost and inconvenience.

Q. Is my landlord required to shovel snow?

A. Generally, no. The landlord’s duty to maintain the common areas has been interpreted to mean that snow removal is not covered by this duty. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but they are very narrow and have been applied only in a few exceptional cases. However, a landlord may assume the duty for snow removal in the lease agreement, but this is rare.

Q. Can my landlord enter my apartment without my permission?

A. Yes, but your landlord still must follow the law. Your landlord must give you reasonable notice and come at a reasonable time. Twenty-four hours advance notice is considered reasonable. See O.R.C. § 5321.04(7) and (8) and (B).

Q. If I am in jail or another institution do I still have to pay rent?

A. Yes, no matter where you are, you still have to pay rent or risk getting evicted.