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Cuyahoga County Council introduces 'pay-to-stay' eviction prevention law

An eviction notice.

Cuyahoga County Council is considering a “pay-to-stay” ordinance that would give the county’s hundreds of thousands of renters a legal defense to stay in their homes if they pay all owed rent and late fees before an eviction hearing.

The legislation, introduced Tuesday by District 2 Representative Dale Miller, comes after eight county municipalities, including Cleveland, passed similar ordinances.

If approved, the legislation would allow tenants facing eviction to pay past-due rent and any reasonable late fees to stay in their homes. Though the judge ultimately makes the final decision, the pay-to-stay law would provide a legal defense to tenants, as well as guidance to the courts.

“[Evictions] are just totally disruptive,” Miller said Tuesday. “It totally disrupts one’s work performance, one’s relationships. It just takes over one’s life and creates a huge amount of stress and difficulty.”

Ohio is one of just five states that allows landlords to evict tenants after one day of being late with a payment.

Miller has been working with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless on possible renter protections since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, no municipalities in Cuyahoga County had pay-to-stay laws.

“Yes, the pandemic looks a little different now, but the pandemic exposed the need for basic tenant protections,” said Molly Martin, a community organizer at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. “It’s about equity.”

The goal of pay-to-stay laws is to deter landlords from filing “unnecessary” evictions, Miller said.

“It sends a strong message to landlords that if someone comes in late and pays what they owe and pays the late fee, that they should be allowed to stay,” he said.

If a city already has a pay-to-stay ordinance, that city's existing legislation would supersede the county’s.

If a municipality wants to opt, it can, but that would “defeat the purpose,” Miller said. He expects a “lengthy process” ahead of passing the ordinance, particularly because he wants to speak with mayors and city council members about their concerns.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.