ENON – The Clark County Community and Economic Development Department is currently taking steps to inform a growing number of landlords and tenants in the Village of Enon about several new guidelines and rulings regarding Fair Housing laws and to educate them and village leaders about the county’s Fair Housing program.
Ethan Harris, grants and land bank manager at Clark County Community and Economic Development, and Anette Ulery, Clark County Fair Housing coordinator, paid a visit to the Enon Village Council meeting Feb. 28 to discuss landlord and tenant issues and to share information about the grant programs available at the county level.
Harris explained that the new housing guidelines spell out certain actions and policies by landlords and property managers that could be regarded as discrimination against those protected under the Fair Housing Act, a law passed in 1968 that prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, age, family status, or disabilities. Although the county agency cannot provide legal advice, it does provide resources for both landlords and tenants and is a primary source of education regarding Fair Housing laws.
“We are here to inform tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities under the law,” said Harris.
Harris is urging tenants to sign a lease agreement that clearly outlines certain rights and responsibilities that are not necessarily included under the law. Many landlords rely generally upon a standard lease form, which is usually designed to protect the landlord more than the tenant. He also suggested that tenants pay attention to certain provisions before signing the lease agreement, such as renewal clauses, utility agreements, insurance policies, pets, overnight guests and security deposits.
He also recommends that tenants get everything in writing. This includes written permission to fix or replace any item belonging to the landlord that is damaged or not working.
“Always ask yourself, ‘could I prove this in court?’” Harris said. “This is especially true for rent receipts, repairs and upgrade agreements, or any other agreements made outside the lease agreement.”
According to Harris, a landlord cannot refuse housing or require a pet deposit to an individual who has a service animal. However, the owner of the service animal is liable for any damages
caused by the animal beyond the normal wear and tear a tenant could reasonably cause. He noted that this particular issue has been one of the biggest discriminatory issues in Clark County.
Harris is advising tenants to pay their rent on time. Under the law, tenants can be evicted if they are even one day late paying their rent.
“If you abide by you lease agreement and pay your rent on time, it puts you in a much better position to receive resolution when your landlord misbehaves,” Harris said. “This is particularly true when applying for rent escrow.”
According to Harris, rent escrow is a process by which a tenant can influence a landlord who knowingly neglects making needed repairs at the rental property. During this process, the tenant provides the landlord with a formal letter, detailing what items need to be repaired or replaced within 30 days of notice. Harris also recommends that the letter be sent via certified mail, along with a receipt that requires someone at the delivery address to sign for the letter.
If after 30 days the repairs are not made, the tenant needs to contacts the municipal court about the issue. The court will request a copy of the tenant’s letter and at that time, will decide if the tenant’s situation warrants rent escrow. If the court decides the landlord has neglected his or her responsibilities, the tenant will deposit his or her rental payments with the court instead of paying the landlord directly. The rental payments will remain in an escrow account until the landlord has completed the repairs. The landlord also cannot evict the tenant during the escrow process.
“This is the only situation a tenant may not make a rental payment to his or her landlord,” Harris stressed.
The county agency is also providing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for small infrastructure projects in the county, including $5,600 to replace the entrance doors at the Enon Government Center with new doors that will meet ADA compliance.
Grant monies from the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP) have also been awarded to the City of Springfield. The program is designed to help prevent foreclosures and stabilize local property values in the city with the demolition of blighted properties that are replaced with attractive green spaces. Harris said the county is hoping to meet state guidelines in the future that would provide NIP funding to smaller municipalities in the county.
One of the biggest impediments to Fair Housing at this time is the lack of advertisement of rental properties in local newspapers, according to Harris. Most landlords are now using online websites to advertise their rental properties, making it difficult for people who do not have access to the Internet. There is also a lack of public housing and no public transportation outside the city limits of Springfield.
For more information about the Clark County Fair Housing Program, please contact the Clark County Fair Housing Coordinator at 937-521-2182.
Linda Collins is a freelance reporter for Greene County News.
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