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Study: More Than One-Third Of Cleveland Rental Properties In Disrepair

Most of the Cleveland rental market consists of single and two-family homes, according to a study from Case Western Reserve University.  [Brian Bull / ideastream]
A line of houses, some of which have paint peeling off the siding.

More than one-third of Cleveland rental properties show signs of disrepair and disinvestment, according to a new study from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU).

Researchers inventoried rental properties in the Cleveland area to determine where assistance programs should be focused. The study found a majority of the Cleveland rental market consists of single- and two-family homes in average or good condition.

“Those properties are in good condition. They have adequate market value to allow them to be maintained,” said Claudia Coulton, co-director of CWRU’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. “Their market value would support a small loan if it was necessary to make repairs on that house.”

But about 38 percent of properties are in disrepair and have a low market value, according to the study, and 8 percent had an open housing code violation. Those buildings are usually owned by individuals or small-scale operations rather than corporate entities, Coulton said, and may face challenges in making necessary improvements.

“These are landlords without a real solid financial standing, they’re very small landlords, not big companies, and that’s where the greatest risk of lead poisoning lies because their properties are in poor condition,” Coulton said.

Roughly a quarter of the properties had very low assessed market value, according to the study, and 17 percent were tax delinquent by at least $500 in 2018.

The study found a total of about 103,400 rental units around Cleveland, housed in about 54,800 properties and spread across roughly 36,700 landlords. The inventory of properties can serve as a guide to programs and organizations that aim to improve the rental market, Coulton said, including initiatives by Lead Safe Cleveland and the Cleveland Housing Network.

“It’s not like there’s a county property record that tells you if something is a rental home or an owner-occupied home, so it really did take a lot of work,” Coulton said.

Properties in need of repair heighten inequities already present in some areas, Coulton said, including a higher risk of lead poisoning among African Americans.

“The rental housing in worse condition and with lower value is more concentrated in some neighborhoods than others,” Coulton said. The study found the Buckeye-Woodhill, Fairfax and Hough neighborhoods were particularly at risk.

Property owners with fewer or less-valuable assets face more difficulties in getting the financial support needed for renovations and improvements, Colton said.

“Their value doesn’t always make it possible to walk into a bank and get a repair loan, and that kind of thing,” Coulton said. “Older homes need a lot of maintenance. It’s a challenge to keep up with the kind of maintenance that’s needed, and it’s expensive.”

Providing landlords with resources on hiring contractor or repairmen, identifying lead hazards and getting a low-interest loan can help improve the state of these properties, Coulton said. Making basic improvements also likely won’t have an impact on the price of those units for renters, she said.

“A couple of other cities that have implemented this kind of thing have not found a big bump in the prices of rental housing,” Coulton said.

More than 60 percent of rental properties are owned by a person or entity with a Cleveland address, Coulton said.

“That is in some ways important to know, in terms of being able to reach out to landlords, being able to engage them face-to-face,” she said.

But just having a Cleveland address listed doesn’t mean the landlord lives in Cleveland, she said, just that they have a home or business in the city. The study did not collect input from property owners, she said, so it’s difficult to know how aware they are of their property’s condition.

“Whether or not the landlord is fully aware of it or not, from the property records we can tell that there are landlords whose properties are in very bad condition and are not worth very much,” Coulton said.