In Ohio, it's legal for you to withhold rent until your landlord makes a major repair. However, you're required to pay that money to your local municipal or county court, which will then hold your rent in escrow until the problem is fixed. It's very important that you follow the steps laid out by the law1—otherwise, you’ll likely face eviction.
One caveat: This provision only applies to landlords with more than three rental units, although landlords with three or fewer units must disclose this fact at the time of the lease signing.
What types of repairs qualify for rent withholding?
Ohio law requires landlords to keep their rental units in “fit and habitable condition,”2 which is the state’s version of the warranty of habitability. Pretty much anything that would affect your health or safety is covered.
Also, if the condition is so egregious to make the apartment uninhabitable, Ohio law does allow you to terminate your lease and move.
Do I need to tell my landlord I'm withholding rent?
After you’ve made a good faith effort to try and have your landlord make the repair, you need to provide written notice that you will be paying your rent to the local court until the problem is fixed. Although it’s not required, you should send this written notice via certified mail in order to have proof that notice was received. Your landlord will then have a “reasonable time” to fix the problem, but no more than 30 days. Obviously, if your heater dies in the middle of February when single-digit temperatures are expected, it would not be reasonable to wait 30 days for the repair to be made.
What do I have to do at the court to set up the escrow account?
First, you have to make sure you’re at the correct court. Ohio has two main types of non-appellate courts: municipal and common pleas (some of the more rural areas have a county court). You need to find either the municipal court or the county court. If you go to the incorrect court, the clerks should be able to direct you to the proper one.
Once you find the proper court, tell the clerk you are withholding rent for lack of repair. They should give you an "Application to Deposit Rent with the Court." Although the clerks are prohibited from giving you legal advice, they are usually helpful in assisting you with filling out forms. Once you fill out this form, you will pay your rent (minus pet fees) to the clerk. Be sure to get a copy of the application and a receipt for your payment. Virtually all these courts do not accept personal checks and require either cash, money order, or certified check.
What happens next?
The answer to this question depends on what county you live in. Some of the larger counties, such as Franklin, immediately set up a mediation—an informal attempt to rectify the problem without a full court hearing.3 Other counties immediately schedule a hearing.
Whether you go to a mediation or a hearing, you need to bring copies of all your paperwork documenting the problem, your attempts to get the landlord to fix it, and all the documents involved with your escrowed rent. If your landlord fixes the problem prior to the hearing, you can go to the court and request that your funds be released—at which point the court will pay your landlord, minus a 1% processing fee.
Once my landlord has made the repair, do I owe them all the rent in escrow?
Not necessarily. You may qualify for rent abatement, depending on the severity of the issue. If the landlord’s failure to fix your problem was for a serious violation that affected your health or safety—such as lack of heat or an insect or rodent infestation—you may be able to keep your full rent for the time period and qualify for damages above that amount.
Double-check that the issue with your rental is covered by the warranty of habitability. Then, figure out if you can make the repair yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. Or, if the issue is really serious, you could consider constructive eviction.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.