Saturday, May 15, 2004

City asked to regulate rent-to-own

Critics say deals tilted in favor of seller/landlord

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DOWNTOWN - A state lawmaker and a coalition of city neighborhoods want Cincinnati City Council to adopt a policy regulating the common real-estate practice of offering rent-to-own homes in poor and working-class communities.

Home schemes, broken dreams, The Enquirer's special report on 'flipping' and foreclosures.
Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, says too many people are getting ripped off on "lease-option" deals that cost unwary buyers thousands of dollars. Driehaus and residents from East Price Hill to Camp Washington have drafted a proposed ordinance for tougher enforcement of existing landlord-tenant laws to curb abuses.

The group will present the proposal on the steps of City Hall Monday morning.

"It really is a scourge on the neighborhoods and it tends to hurt low- and moderate-income families who are trying to actually save up enough money to buy a home," Driehaus said. "These guys are taking advantage of those dreams and putting people in pretty bad situations."

Lease-option contracts often require a renter to buy a home after paying an up-front option fee of at least $1,000 and making rent payments for about two years. If the renter meets all terms and conditions, he has a chance to get a loan and buy the house.

Some investor groups say lease-options are ideal for renters who want to buy a house but have poor credit history and lack down-payment money.

But Driehaus, a resident of Price Hill, said his main complaint is that some contracts require renters to perform all maintenance on a home - a tactic used by landlords to shift large repair bills to the renter.

The proposed ordinance states that in Cincinnati, lease-option agreements would be subject to all the state's landlord-tenant laws. It says that the agreements must contain the words "This is not a contract to buy" and that landlords must fully disclose the condition of the property to renters.

The measure further states that a lease-option agreement cannot be valid until an independent third-party home inspection is conducted. It also calls for a clearly defined sale price to be agreed upon before the agreement can be executed. The landlord must pay for the recording and filing of the lease-option agreement with the county recorder within 30 days of its execution.

"This isn't trying to force the hand of council," Driehaus said. "I've talked to quite a few council members and they are very supportive."

Driehaus said he wants to include language about lease-option agreements in a bill already being considered in the statehouse concerning predatory lending.

In November, Driehaus asked Ohio's attorney general to rule on whether offering rent-to-own homes is permitted under state law. His request was denied.


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