Students renting off campus can seek help from Student Legal Services for disputes with a landlord. Credit: Cori Wade | For The Lantern

Landlords can enforce rules regarding pets, parking and even paint colors, but there are also several amenities Ohio tenants have an indisputable right to.

Many students who choose to live off campus will be first-time renters, and there is a lot of information tenants should know that is not necessarily common knowledge.

Chief counsel in the civil division at Ohio State Student Legal Services, Molly Philipps, had some tips on how renters should educate themselves as they navigate a landlord-tenant agreement.

“Tenants have rights that are afforded to them by statute that lots of times do not find their way into the lease agreements,” Philipps said.

Chapter 5321 of the Ohio Revised Code details what a relationship between a landlord and tenant should legally look like.

According to Section 5321.04, landlords are lawfully required to “make all repairs and do whatever is reasonably necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.”

While that statement leaves room for interpretation, Philipps said there are a few non-negotiable issues to which landlords have to tend.

“They have to maintain heating appliances, ventilation equipment, plumbing — all of those types of major features of the home,” Philipps said.

If a tenant is experiencing problems with any of the amenities listed above, Philipps said there are multiple ways tenants can exercise their rights.

The first thing that should be done is the filing of a notice to repair, Philipps said.

Valerie Hajjar, owner of NWB Properties and landlord to 45 tenants in Central Ohio, said she urges renters to never wait until it is an emergency to file a notice of repair.

“If something is wrong, we would like to know as soon as they suspect something’s wrong before it’s an emergency,” Hajjar said.

Maintenance requests are handled differently with every landlord. Regardless, Philipps said the tenant should always engage in some form of written communication.

If a tenant chooses not to file a physical notice of repair, the request can instead be in the form of an email or even a text message, as long as the tenant is able to save a time-stamped copy of his or her written communication for their records, Philipps said.

Philipps explained that this is important because the tenant will have proof of the request if problems escalate and legal action has to be taken.

Hajjar said they almost always prefer emails or text messages to phone calls because landlords also need a written record. She added that in her experience, written communication is responded to in the same time frame as a phone call, which leaves no disadvantage to writing instead of calling.  

If the landlord has failed to complete the request within a reasonable amount of time, up to 30 days, Philipps said a tenant can then act in a few different ways.

Philipps explained that if a tenant is unsure of whether something is an issue they can call 311, the non-emergency number for the city of Columbus, and someone will come within a few business days for an inspection. If it is determined by the agent that there is a violation, they can order repairs from the landlord within a designated time frame.

Other means of action include rent escrow, court petitions and lease termination. Philipps said that tenants should meet with someone at SLS to learn about these options, so an attorney can help guide them through these more serious legal actions if they become necessary.

Philipps wants students to “trust [their] gut” when it comes to deciding whether or not something is an issue and “know that [their] landlord is supposed to provide [them] with a safe and habitable environment.”

SLS is located at 20 E. 11th Ave., and Ohio State students can make an appointment with an attorney to discuss any legal questions by calling 614-247-5853.