Thursday, October 7, 2004

Rent-to-own curtailed

Council unanimously passes compromise housing measure

By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati on Wednesday became one of the first cities in Ohio to enact a law regulating the common real estate practice of offering rent-to-own homes.

City Council unanimously approved an "anti-predatory leasing" policy aimed at curbing abuses related to rent-to-own or lease-option housing deals. The policy is a compromise among real estate investors, residents and city officials who had been negotiating since April.

"There are some who want it stronger. There are some who say it's too strong," said Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, who co-sponsored the ordinance. "Maybe everyone is not happy with every aspect, but all the voices were heard."

Lease-option contracts typically promise a renter a chance to buy a home after paying an up-front option fee of $1,000 to $2,000 and making rent payments for a set term of one or two years. The renters have a chance to purchase the home if they meet all the terms and conditions and secure a loan.

The city's new policy states that lease-option agreements will 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.

Under the new law, contracts would have to suggest that tenants obtain a home inspection and limits the amount of the option fee. The fee cannot exceed 11/2 times the rent during the first or second year of the contract. Landlords must also disclose that the option fee is nonrefundable.

The Cincinnati Real Estate Investors Association, which opposes a cap on option fees, called the legislation "anti-housing" and "anti-small business." "What the council has failed to comprehend is that the rehabilitation and redevelopment of rundown houses in struggling and declining neighborhoods typically requires an investment of between $20,000 and $40,000," said the association's Vena Jones-Cox. "The restoration of such buildings into homes are beyond the scope of most homebuyers looking for affordable housing."

Reece added, "We're not saying all lease-options are bad. We have to have a process to weed out the bad apples."

In other business:

• Council approved (8-1) a land swap with Hamilton County that officially ended a 10-year battle to stop the county from building a 60-bed juvenile jail in Bond Hill.

Under the deal, the city would get the Mill Creek Psychiatric Center of Youth - the county's proposed site for the jail - in exchange for three city-owned parcels and $300,000. Those parcels are Drake Hospital, the Hillcrest School site in Springfield Township and the B&B Parking Lot at Eggleston Avenue and Reading Road.

Councilman Jim Tarbell, who opposed trading away the parking lot, voted against the deal.

• Councilman John Cranley introduced a motion asking council to pass a budget that would include two police recruit classes in 2005 and 2006. Cranley said this would guarantee that the city reaches its goal of 1,075 sworn officers by the end of 2005 and maintain that number through 2006.

• City Manager Valerie Lemmie introduced the 12 people who will comprise the Citizen Review Committee that will recommend candidates for the two assistant police chief and the police academy director positions.

The committee members are: former federal Judge Nathaniel Jones (chairman), Mary Asbury, Kathy Atkinson, Mary Anne Berry, Herb Brown, Tom Cody, Don Driehaus, Karen Dudley, David Ginsburg, the Rev. Michael Graham, Cecil Thomas and the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr.



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