- We create a Department of Fair Housing within the city of Columbus, to administer the Columbus Fair Housing Code (Section 137 of Columbus City Codes), under a framework called “The Columbus Compact.” A “compact” is an agreement on self-governance — just like the Mayflower Compact was an agreement on self-governance when the Pilgrims unexpectedly landed at Plymouth Rock (Massachusetts) instead of in Virginia and the laws they expected to be under did not apply. The Columbus Compact is an agreement on self-governance that “Columbus will not operate as a modern feudal system” where land owners have all the rights over the “commoners” who don’t own land. Instead, it demands that the rights and interests of landowners, while different, do not exceed the rights and interests of citizens of Columbus wo are not landowners,” [Sec. 137.004] and empowers tenants by creating new rights for tenants to better balance power under the law. The Columbus Compact further says that the role of government is to empower residents and support them in the exercise of their inherent power, rather than supplant their power.
- The Department of Fair Housing has divisions of rental property registration and licensing, rent information, tenant rights and responsibilities, and appeals. It also has an Office of Inspector General to ensure the Department is not subject to corrupting influences and to investigate any allegations of wrong-doing. Finally, the Department’s policy is reviewed and affirmed by a 21 member Fair Housing Commission, composed primarily of people recommended by tenant rights, community and fair housing advocacy groups. Once recommended to the Mayor, the legislation requires the Mayor to appoint and council to affirm the recommended person unless the council can show “just and due cause” to not appoint. In such cases, the legislation gives each recommending entity the right to recommend an alternate candidate, or the recommending entity or recommended person can sue the city for failing to appoint its recommended commissioner. The Fair Housing Commission is designed to put a productive tension in the Department to ensure that public interest and legislative intent continue to be served, and the Department does not become “captured” by the well-funded entities it regulates. All told, the Department will be fully staffed by about 35 people and will have a $5 million annual budget, which is fully-funded by nominal registration and licensing fees charged to landlords/property owners of about 170,000 rental housing units.
- REGISTRATION: We require most properties to be leased on the open market, to register with the Department, using an on-line database to gather property and unit information, and ownership information for every owner with a greater than 5 percentage share — including ownership at any percentage by Columbus elected officials. Exempted from registration are:
- Medical rehabilitation facilities
- Nursing homes and assisted living facilities
- Housing units owned by religious groups, where rental is to members only
- Housing units owned by nonprofits organizations, where social services are provided on-site (e.g., homeless, domestic violence and substance abuse recovery shelters)
- Short-term rentals which are registered on that basis
- LICENSING: We require most registered housing units (about 170,000 housing units) to be licensed in order to lease to tenants. To be licensed the owner must certify the property meets established standards for habitability and will meet established operating standards. The license includes a Department-calculated target rent (“fair rent”) for each unit, plus the amount of any temporary capital improvement surcharges. This information on each license, which must be posted in each unit, informs tenants about what a “fair rent” for the unit should be. Exempted from licensing are:
- Units in properties that are not required to be registered
- Units that receive operating subsidies for rent (e.g., Section 8)
- Units which owners own fewer than 4 rental housing units (including the sum of fractional interests)
- PRICE-GOUGING PROHIBITED DURING PERIOD OF PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS
- For five years after the COVID-18 case rate exceeds 200 cases per 100,000 people, a nonconsensual increase of greater than 15% in a year, absent a documented increase in costs, is defined as price-gouging and any tenant, tenant union, or tenant association can seek an advisory opinion from the Department of Fair Housing and voluntary mediation, and/or can file a claim against the property owner in Franklin County Municipal Court. Upon a finding of price-gouging the court shall issue a “cease and desist” order with a return to prior rent levels for a period of at least 12 months, and an award of three month’s rent plus reasonable attorney fees. Upon a finding of price-gouging the Department can rescind, revoke or refuse to issue subsequent licenses for vacant units in any property in which that defendant has a 30% or greater ownership interest.
- RESIDENTIAL RENT COERCION PROHIBITED: Residential Rent Coercion is an atypical change in rental terms over a short period of time, including price-gouging or a failure to repair or maintain property, where a landlord has an unfair bargaining position because tenant options are constrained, including due to low housing supply or a period of social or economic disruption. Any person believing him/herself to be a victim of Residential Rental Coercion can engage with the Department in voluntary mediation with the landlord, or can sue the landlord in Franklin County Municipal Court. Upon a finding, the court shall issue a “cease and desist” order returning to prior conditions for no less than 24 months, an award of three months’ rent plus reasonable attorney fees and such other judgment as the court sees fit. If the defendant had been found guilty twice before there is an additional award of $5,000; if the defendant had been found guilty five times before, there is a $10,000 award plus the court may enact a $10,000 per day fine unless/until the property is sold to a property owner who agrees to lease at fair rents.
- RESIDENTIAL RENT INFORMATION PROGRAM ESTABLISHED: The Department will provide information to end the asymmetrical information that contributes to market failures, by establishing for each licensed unit, a “Target Rent,” which is a Fair Rent taking into account such factors as size, age, location, amenities, utilities, past rental history (rents charged on January 1 of 2019 and 2020) and management, to set a “Base Rent” effective as of January 1, 2020.
- ANNUAL RENT INCREASES: This base Target Rent will be escalated each year by the annual percentage increase in wages, as published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics — until January 1, 2025, which rent will be called the “Current Year Base Rent Target – 2025”. (The Target Rent in any year is also referred to as the “Fair Rent.” When a unit is occupied by a tenant who self-identifies to the Landlord as being a senior or disabled, the annual fair rent increase calculation is capped at the percentage increase of the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment. Both annual increases are designed to tie rents more closely to incomes, per The Columbus Compact, to avoid having rent consume a greater and greater share of Columbus citizens’ incomes over time. Please note that the Ohio General Assembly passed HB 430 on June 20, 2022, which prohibits cities from establishing rent control and rent stabilization programs; thus these Fair Rents are not caps — they are created for informational purposes only and then drive a set of incentives designed to encourage Landlords to set and keep lease rates at, or near, those Fair Rents.
- RENTS TARGETS PUBLISHED FOR EACH LICENSED UNIT: The “Current Base Year Rent – 2025” shall be published for each unit by October 1, 2024, and shall be updated each year on that date thereafter. Voted property taxes are allocated by unit and passed through to tenants through the “Current Year Base Rent” set each year, beginning April 1, 2025.
- CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT SURCHARGES: Landlords can make improvements to the property and the costs of such, plus a reasonable rate of return are applied to an amortization period to be set by the Department, and can be added to the then Current Year Base Rent Target as a temporary Capital Improvement Surcharge for the period in the set amortization schedule. Any surcharge that would create a Fair Rent payment more than 10 percent higher than the year before is subject to review and disallowal from the Target Rent calculation by the Department, unless the Tenant agrees to the proposed increase in Target Rent. Landlords performing work themselves, or through a company they have an ownership interest in, must disclose such relationship and the allowable calculated costs of such self-performed work are capped by the Department. A failure to disclose self-work, when discovered, will be cause for the Landlord to forfeit recovery of the entire amount of the improvement through the Target Rent surcharge mechanism, creating more potential liability for the Landlord if/as the charged rent deviates more from the calculated Target/Fair Rent.
- SUBSTANTIAL REHABILITATION: For owners investing more than 50% of the value of the home with building permits during the 12 years preceding April 1, 2025, annual rent increases calculations are limited to the rate of increase of the Consumer Price Index plus 2 percent through 15 years, at which point the appropriate annual target rent increase is applied (percent increase in wages, or Social Security COLA, depending on the tenant).
- NEW CONSTRUCTION: To ensure rent control does not negatively affect housing production, for new housing construction, the owner/developer sets its initial rents (“Target Rent”) for each unit, which can then escalate at no more than the rate of increase of the Consumer Price Index, plus two percent. In the sixteenth year and thereafter, the Target Rent calculation may increase at either the annual percentage increase in wages, or Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment, depending on the tenant in place at the time.
- VOLUNTARY TARGET RENT INCENTIVES: The Fair Housing Commission will review Target Rents and actual rents charged, and shall develop a banding mechanism, and landlords and properties are assigned to one of the five bands based on how far the actual rents vary from the target rents. The bands are labeled descriptively, from Band One Columbus Compact Community Champion for the best landlords that have voluntarily agreed to maintain Fair Rents, to Band Five Predatory Landlords whose rents vary the most above Fair Rents. Those with the best ratings for their existing rental portfolios (Columbus Compact Community Champions) get favorable treatment by the city to develop new housing (and likewise manage it well), while those who have the worst rating have worse terms or no access to public funding to dissuade them from continuing to profit off the backs of Columbus citizens. Further, beyond the social shame of being labeled as Predators, those people/entity will infect any housing partnership they seek to join, and they will become pariahs in the real estate development field as no one will want to do business with them.
- APPEALS: Landlords and tenants can both appeal within the Department, any administrative action. Both parties receive notice and have a right to participate in actions affecting the leased unit. There are limited circumstances under which a Landlord may file a Target Rent calculation appeal.
- LANDLORD AND TENANT RIGHTS: The law affirms some aspects of Ohio Landlord-Tenant Law, and adds additional provisions, including the Department’s role to empower and train Tenant Unions (organized to support and fight for the rights of tenants at specific properties) and Tenant Associations (organized to support and fight for the rights of tenants in specific geographical areas), the right of tenants to contest rent increases, condition reports, and prohibitions against drug and human trafficking activity taking place in rental property, whereby landlords can lose their licenses to operate the properties after two findings of such by the Department (which must investigate) within a year. Further, the law will establish problematic landlord and problematic tenant registries to encourage good behavior by both. Landlords who do not maintain properties and tenants who cause excess damage can both be reported in an effort to ensure low costs, high quality housing. Both registries contain provisions for needed privacy and information is posted for no longer than six years. Landlords may not retaliate against tenants taking part in, or advocating for their interest in matters under the jurisdiction of the Department.
- FINES: There are a variety of fines for submitting false information, or violating other provisions of this section of law.
- STATE PRE-EMPTION: Because the state of Ohio has passed a law prohibiting rent control in Columbus: 1) a windfall profits tax of 60% is assessed against landlords or property owners for all lease revenues received in excess of the calculated Current Year Base Rent Targets for each year thereafter; 2) the city will not issue any property tax abatements to any housing development which does not have more than half of its units affordable to households earning less than 60% of the Area Median Income (adjusted by household size) and the city must audit each development annually to ensure such units are in fact occupied by households at less than 60% of Area Median Income; 3) for every previously-licensed unit listed for sale, the city has the right of first refusal and seller must accept a city bid for the property based on its rent-controlled value, or the city has the right to take the property after its sale for public purpose for transfer to an owner who agrees to lease at fair rents by eminent domain; and 4) every housing development of more than 20 units newly annexed into the city of Columbus must make at least half of its units available to and leased by, households earning 50% of Area Median Income or less, which the city shall audit annually. In this way, poorer Columbus children can gain equal access to better-funded suburban school systems, if their parents so choose. Any citizen has the right to enforce this provision, and any person found to have participating in the development of non-compliant housing shall be liable in the amount of $10,000, and any financing institution providing financing for such noncompliant development shall be liable in the amount of $1,000,000 (one million dollars) and any citizen has standing and the right to file such claim, with all attorney fees paid by the financing institution. Finally, if rent control is subsequently allowed by the state, the city shall adopt rent control within 180 days.
Read, Print and/or Circulate the Petition
Note: This is the final petition filed June 24, 2022. You may print and seek signatures on this document. (Ideally the petition is printed double-sided.) The circulator is required to witness all signatures before completing the circulator statement. Signators must be registered voters who live in the city of Columbus and within Franklin County.