Mar 19, 2020

By Lorie Garland, Ohio REALTORS Assistant Vice President of Legal Services

Property managers of residential property are greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. From student housing to senior housing, managers are forced to deal with issues they have never faced in the past. Some of those issues are addressed below.

 

Q: My tenant is a student at OSU. When OSU suspended in-classroom instruction my tenant wanted out of her lease. Does Ohio’s Landlord Tenant Act require me to terminate the lease?

No. Ohio’s landlord tenant law does not require a landlord to grant a tenant’s request to terminate or alter the terms of the lease due to COVID-19 related issues.

 

Q: My tenant is a bartender and has lost his job. He has asked for some type of rent forbearance, such as a temporary reduction in rent or a payment plan to provide additional time to pay his rent. Is a landlord required to make some type of rent concession?

Currently, there is no state or federal law that requires a landlord to alter the terms of a lease including the amount or timing of rent payments. However, it may be in the owner/manger and tenant’s best interest to consider such requests. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the court system has taken action with regard to filings and court actions. For example, the Franklin County Municipal Court will not conduct eviction hearings until May. So if a hearing is required in an eviction case, the eviction process could be delayed. A landlord should check with their local court for any current restrictions on eviction actions in their area. Additional eviction restrictions could occur in the future as well. With this being said, a landlord should consider entering into a rent forbearance agreement with a tenant impacted by COVID-19. For example, the forbearance could allow rent payments to be suspended for a period of time due to hardship caused by COVID-19. A property manager should consult with the property owner regarding any forbearance agreement and engage an attorney to draft the agreement.

 

Q: Can a manager make a decision on a case-by-case basis whether to grant a tenant’s request for rent forbearance due to hardship caused by the coronavirus?

A manager should set the criteria and documentation required to grant a tenant request. It is recommended an attorney assist in establishing the criteria and review process. Keep in mind, the criteria and documentation required must apply to all tenant requests and should be administered uniformly to avoid a fair housing violation. The Fair Housing Act prohibits a housing provider from discriminating against anyone based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Apply your policy to all and in a uniform manner.

 

Q: Can a tenant concerned about contracting COVID-19 refuse to allow a showing to a prospective tenant or prohibit access to a property management employee to make a repair?

Ohio Landlord Tenant Law provides that a tenant cannot unreasonably withhold consent to a landlord to enter the unit to make ordinary, necessary, or agreed repairs or exhibit the unit to prospective or actual purchasers or tenants. The issue becomes whether the tenant’s denial of access due to their concern over COVID-19 is unreasonable? Currently, it may be likely a court would rule that the tenant’s denial is reasonable to protect themselves and their family’s health and well being. At this time it is recommended a manager limit access to a unit where a tenant has denied access to those situations where repair is required to prevent significant damage to a property. Such as to limit damage due to a water line break. Even in mandatory repair situations, to ensure the health and safety of the tenant and the brokerage employee “social distancing” and other CDC best practices should be followed.

 

Q: Can a property manager refuse a maintenance request from a tenant due to the manager’s employee’s concern with entering a unit and contracting COVID-19?

Every employer, including property managers, need to be concerned about the health and safety of their employees. All employers must comply with any federal, state and local COVID-19 regulations and should comply with, and ensure their employees are aware of, CDC best practices with regard to safe work practices. Also, landlords must make every effort to meet their obligations under the landlord tenant law and their lease. This includes keeping the property in a fit and habitable condition. Bottom line, manager’s should develop a policy to ensure the safety of their employees while meeting the needs of their tenants. The policy should consider the need for the maintenance requested, i.e. does it affect habitability? The policy could include asking the tenant if anyone in the unit has cold or flu like symptoms. As stated above for rent forbearance policies, any policy for screening maintenance requests must be uniformly applied to all maintenance requests.

 

Q: I manage housing for 55 and over and many of our tenants are at higher risk of developing more serious complications if the coronavirus is contracted. We have common hallways and a fitness center. What precautions should be taken?

A property manager should follow the guidance and best practices provided by the CDC and any COVID-19 regulations adopted at the state or local level. Those include proper cleaning of doorknobs, handrails and furniture in the hallways and common areas, encourage “social distancing” and that sick tenants remain in their units, limit gatherings and close the fitness center.

Legal articles provided in the Ohio REALTORS Buzz are intended to provide broad, general information about the law and is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

Source:  Ohio REALTORS®

Click here to read this article on the Ohio Association of REALTORS® website.

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