The following information applies to most residential tenants who pay rent for a place to live, with some exceptions (for example, those who pay rent to live in nursing homes, hotels and motels, and university-owned housing). A different landlord-tenant law applies to those who live in a manufactured or mobile home park.
What is a Rental Agreement?
A rental agreement or lease (called a "lease" in this pamphlet) is a binding written or an oral contract between parties to establish or modify the terms, conditions and rules concerning one of the party’s use and occupancy of a residential premises. A properly written lease will eliminate most misunderstandings and problems commonly arising between a landlord and a tenant, and will benefit and protect both parties. A lease may create a tenancy from week to week, month to month, year to year, or any other amount of time that the parties agree to. For the protection of both landlord and tenant, it is usually wise to specify how the lease may be terminated. If there is no written lease, the landlord or the tenant may end a week-to-week tenancy by giving the other party at least seven days’ notice before the day of termination. Both parties may end a month-to-month tenancy by giving the other party at least 30 days' notice before the end of the current monthly term.
Ohio law prohibits a landlord from shifting certain responsibilities or liabilities to a tenant. Such clauses in a lease cannot be enforced against the tenant. Similarly, a landlord may not enforce provisions requiring a tenant to pay the landlord’s attorneys’ fees, unless specifically permitted under Ohio’s landlord-tenant laws.
Ordinarily, the landlord prepares the lease. For this reason, a court will usually decide any confusing or unclear terms against the landlord and in favor of the tenant.
Under Ohio law, there are certain circumstances where tenants and landlords may recover damages and, sometimes, reasonable attorneys’ fees, for the other party's unlawful act.
What are my rights as a tenant?
You are a tenant if you occupy or possess the residential property of another under a rental agreement.
If you do what the rental agreement and/or the law requires, you have the right of exclusive possession of the property until the lease expires.
- You have the right to complain to a governmental agency if your landlord violates housing laws or regulations affecting health and safety.
- You have the right to complain to your landlord for failing to perform any legal duties. If you complain and the landlord retaliates by increasing rent, decreasing services or seeking to evict you for complaining, the landlord has violated the law.
- There are legal remedies to stop or punish retaliation, such as terminating your lease and recovering damages and attorneys’ fees.
- You have the right to join with other tenants to bargain with your landlord about lease terms.
- You have the right to know the name and address of the owner of your residential premises and the owner’s agent, if applicable. This information must appear in your written lease or be given to you in writing at the beginning of your tenancy if the lease is oral. If your landlord fails to provide this information, you do not have to notify your landlord before you escrow your rent with the court. The county auditor also maintains records on the owners of residential properties.
- You have a right to privacy, which the landlord must respect. The landlord may enter your apartment after reasonable notice (at least 24 hours) for certain legitimate reasons and without notice in certain emergency situations.
- If you breach your lease, the landlord may not seize your furnishings or possessions to recover rent payments.
- Within 30 days after receiving a written complaint from you about the premises, the landlord must make appropriate repairs. The landlord must remedy conditions that significantly affect health and safety in fewer than 30 days and must act immediately in the case of emergency.
If the landlord fails to make repairs within a reasonable amount of time (not more than 30 days), you may have the right to get a court order for repairs to be made, obtain a court-ordered reduction in rent or terminate the lease. You also may have the right to escrow your rent.
What does escrowing rent mean?
Escrowing your rent means that you deposit your rental payments with the clerk of the municipal or county court, depending on where you live, instead of paying your landlord.
You can escrow your rent ONLY after having waited a full 30 days after providing notice to the landlord of its failure to fulfill obligations (unless there is an emergency such as lack of heat in winter or lack of water). The notice must be clear and detailed enough that your landlord and the court will be able to understand exactly what is wrong. You must deposit your rent into escrow at the same time you would normally pay your rent. Warning: If you do not follow the proper escrow procedure, you can be evicted.
For example, if your rent is due on the first of the month and you give your landlord written notice of your complaint on the 15th, then you still must pay rent to the landlord—and not the clerk—on the first day of the following month.
You may NOT escrow your rent if:
- You are not current in your rental payments (escrowing rent when you are not current could result in being evicted and losing the money in escrow to your landlord); or
- You received written notice when you moved in that the landlord owns three or fewer dwelling units.
What are my obligations as a tenant?
As a tenant, you must:
- Keep the premises safe and sanitary.
- Dispose of all garbage in a safe and sanitary manner.
- Keep plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit as clean as their condition permits.
- Operate all electrical and plumbing fixtures properly.
- Comply with the standards imposed by all state and local housing, health and safety codes.
- Not intentionally or negligently destroy, deface, damage or remove any fixture, appliance or other part of the premises, or allow your guests to do so.
- Keep clean and use appropriately any appliances the landlord has provided and promptly tell your landlord if your appliances need repair.
- Not disturb, or allow your guests to disturb, your neighbors.
- Not allow controlled substances (such as drugs) to be present on the property.
- Allow your landlord reasonable access (upon 24 hours’ notice) to the premises to inspect, make repairs or show the property to prospective buyers or renters. Twenty-four hours of notice is not required in emergencies, or for the landlord to deliver large parcels, or upon agreement with the landlord.
- Not allow sexual predators to occupy the unit if the unit is located within 1,000 feet of a school, preschool or child daycare center.
The tenant cannot change any of these legal duties, but the landlord may agree to assume responsibility for fulfilling any of them.
What are my rights as a landlord?
If you own rental property and permit another to use, occupy or possess your residential premises for a period in return for money or something of value, you are a landlord.
- You can rent your property for any amount you wish. Unless you have a written or oral lease that provides for a fixed rent for the lease term, you can increase rents in any amount if you give adequate notice (usually 30 days).
- You may rent to anyone you wish and establish any conditions and terms in a rental contract that do not conflict with federal or state law, including federal and state anti-discrimination statutes.
- You may evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent or for breaking any significant term of the lease. You must give the tenant written notice of your intent before filing an eviction action in court. For nonpayment of rent, you must give the notice at least three days before filing the eviction action or the court will dismiss the case. In other cases, you must give the tenant 30 days to correct the violation before you can begin an eviction action. Do not count the day you give the notice or weekends and holidays, and wait until after the third day before filing the eviction complaint.
- If a tenant violates the law in a way that materially affects health and safety, you must notify the tenant in writing and give the tenant 30 days to resolve the problem before you file an eviction.
- After reasonable notice to the tenant (24 hours), you have the right to enter the premises to inspect, repair, make improvements, supply services or show the property.
- You have the right to have your property returned to you in as good a condition as it was when the tenant took possession, except for ordinary wear and tear.
What are my obligations as a landlord?
You have certain obligations under Ohio law whether or not they are written into a lease. You cannot change these obligations or require the tenant to assume them, and the tenant cannot agree to excuse or waive your performance of them under any circumstance. For example, a lease that requires the tenant to assume responsibility for making all repairs would not be enforceable.
As a landlord, you must:
- Comply with the standards of all building, housing, health and safety codes that significantly affect health and safety.
- Make all repairs necessary to keep the rental premises in a livable condition.
- Keep all common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition.
- Maintain in good working condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating and air conditioning systems and fixtures and appliances that you have supplied.
- Provide and maintain trash receptacles and provide for trash removal if you own four or more units in the same building.
- Supply running water, reasonable amounts of hot water and heat at all times. (You may require the tenant to pay any or all utility bills for his or her unit, whether it is an apartment or a house.)
- Not abuse your right to enter the property for legitimate reasons. (Note: if this right is abused, you have invaded the tenant’s privacy).
- Commence eviction proceedings against a tenant who is illegally using or permitting the use of controlled substances in the premises.
- Comply with the rights of tenants under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 117 Stat. 2835, 50 U.S.C. App. 501.
- Not attempt to evict a tenant without a court order by changing the locks, terminating utility service or removing the tenant’s belongings.
- Register with the auditor of the county in which the property is situated, providing your name, address, and telephone number. (If you do not reside in Ohio, or if you own the property in the name of an entity not registered with the Ohio Secretary of State, you must name an Ohio resident as agent for service of process.)
- If your property was built before 1978, give your tenant a lead-based paint disclosure form and copy of the U.S. EPA's "Protect Your Family from Lead in the Home" pamphlet. Also, the lease must include a specific warning statement about lead-based paint.
As a landlord, you may be liable to a person who is injured in an area you control or as a result of your failure to maintain and repair certain basic items as required by law or the lease. If the lease is in writing, you must give the tenant your name and address and the name and address of your agent, if any. If the lease is oral, you must give the tenant the same information in writing when the tenant moves in. If you fail to provide this information, you waive the right to receive a notice of the conditions before the tenant escrows the rent.
How do I get back my security deposit?
When a tenant moves out at the end of a lease term, there are certain rules for both the tenant and the landlord to follow.
The tenant should return the key to the landlord and must leave the premises in as good a condition as they were when the tenant moved in. The tenant must make any repairs needed to restore the premises to that condition, but is not responsible for ordinary wear and tear.
After the tenant moves out, any remaining security deposit held by the landlord can be applied to unpaid rent, utilities, late fees or to any damages the tenant’s actions may have caused. The landlord must return the balance to the tenant. Assuming the tenant gives the landlord a new or forwarding address within 30 days after leaving, the landlord must, within 30 days, return to the tenant all money remaining after lawful deductions, which must be itemized for the tenant. If the landlord does not return the money owed by that time, a tenant can file a claim with the court. The court can order the landlord to pay the tenant twice the money owed plus attorneys’ fees.
Who owns what?
In general, unless otherwise agreed, “fixtures” belong to the landlord. Fixtures include parts of the building such as sinks, furnaces, water heaters and equipment that is either built-in or fastened to the property. Anything a tenant brings onto the premises that does not become a fixture belongs to the tenant and may be removed by the tenant when the lease is terminated.
Do I need an attorney?
This information, based on Ohio law, is issued to inform you, not to advise you about your particular case. Do not try to apply or interpret the law without help from an attorney who knows the facts, which may change the way the law is applied. Low-income tenants may qualify for free legal services from legal aid programs, which are available in all Ohio counties. To contact a legal aid provider near you, call 1-866-LAW-OHIO.
© December 2014 Ohio State Bar Association
LawFacts Pamphlet Series
Ohio State Bar Association
PO Box 16562
Columbus, OH 43216-6562
(800) 282-6556 or (614) 487-2050
Funding from the Ohio State Bar Foundation
This is one of a series of LawFacts public information pamphlets. Others may be obtained through your attorney’s office, by writing the Ohio State Bar Association or through www.ohiobar.org.
The information contained in this pamphlet is general and should not be applied to specific legal problems without first consulting an attorney.