Athens City Council again passes ‘pay to stay’ ordinance

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Athens City Council voted Monday to once again adopt an ordinance to provide tenants tools to avoid eviction.

Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Ordinance 85-22, which has been called the “pay to stay” ordinance, would provide tenants with legal representation at eviction hearings and allow for tenants to avoid being evicted if tenants paid whatever rent they owed their landlord, plus any late fees.

The council voted to reconsider the ordinance two weeks prior, having previously voted to adopt it in early September. This decision was prompted by concerns from Councilmember Alan Swank, who felt the council needed to hear more from judges and landlords.

Councilmember Solveig Spjeldnes said they had received input from the community after their vote to reconsider the ordinance.

“I think we have received a fair amount of letters and communications from the community, from significant organizations, both pro and con for passing this,” said Spjeldnes.

Alan McMillan, a local landlord, spoke out against the ordinance during Monday’s meeting. McMillan said he thought the ordinance is unnecessary because landlords only evict tenants as a last resort and would rather work things out than evict tenants.

“What landlords want is for both parties on a lease to fulfill their obligation and nothing more. If we speak of eviction, one party didn’t hold up their end of the bargain,” said McMillan. “Nobody’s going to kick someone out for being one day late. We are compassionate towards our tenants and I believe most landlords are.”

Katherine King, a member of the United Athens County Tenants (UACT), implored the council to pass the ordinance now and amend it later rather than sending it back to committee.

“I think it’s naïve to say that all landlords have the best interests of tenants at heart,” said King. “I’ve seen landlords that have been upset when their tenants accuse them of sexual harassment, refuse to accept the rent when the tenant tried to pay them, then say that their tenant didn’t pay and evict them for non-payment.”

Zach Eckles, a policy advocate with the Ohio Poverty Law Center, said the ordinance would strengthen existing housing regulations and prevent discrimination and abuse by landlords.

“Once passed, this ordinance will make it more difficult for landlords with discriminatory intent to use nonpayment as a pretext to evict a tenant. I know that there are plenty of good landlords out there and their tenants will not need to utilize this ordinance,” said Eckles. “But like there are bad tenants, there are also bad landlords and this ordinance would provide a safeguard for the tenants who enter into lease agreements with those bad landlords.”

After hearing from the public, Swank reiterated his support for the ordinance, citing an article in The New York Times about homelessness in Gallia County and the effect homelessness has on children’s performance in public schools.

“If we can keep people in their homes even though they may be a few days late, I think that’s a good thing,” said Swank.

Swank also cited Dayton’s pay to stay ordinance, which established a mediation process so landlords and tenants could come to an understanding without going to court.

A proposed amendment from Swank to increase the cap on legal fees failed, though the council has not ruled out amending the ordinance in the future.