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Government


New bill would lower penalities in housing discrimination cases
Opponents say it would leave tenants vulnerable; supporters say landlords are the vulnerable ones
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT JO INGLES


Reporter
Jo Ingles
 
State Sen. Bill Seitz says his bill will protect landlords.
Courtesy of State of Ohio
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In The Region:

A bill in the Ohio Legislature would drastically cut fines and make other changes in the state’s law on housing discrimination. Supporters say it is a change that is needed to protect landlords from being victimized by fair housing organizations. But opponents say it will weaken protections for vulnerable tenants.

LISTEN: INGLES ON HOUSING

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In 2008, 82-year-old Helen Grybosky offered a property for rent. She advertised a “no pets” policy. Among those who responded was a person who claimed to have a companion dog to deal with an anxiety disorder. Unbeknownst to Grybosky, that person was a tester for a fair housing organization.

So, when the Northeast Ohio widow asked for proof of the medical condition and a $100 damage deposit, that group accused her of  with discrimination against a protected class.

“Mrs. Grybosky is the object lesson for what we are trying to do in this bill,” says Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz.

He is the sponsor of legislation that would change state law in a way that he says more closely aligns it with federal housing laws.

Lower penalties, 'bad consequences'
But fair housing groups across the state are hammering the bill, saying it would allow landlords and property owners to discriminate.

Mike Smalz is the senior attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center. He says Ohio’s fair housing law would no longer be in compliance with the federal fair housing law.

“That has at least two very bad consequences: 1) Ohio would lose some federal funding that now goes to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which is the state’s civil rights agency, 2) it would jeopardize the interagency agreements that HUD and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission have negotiated and implemented so that certain cases are referred from one agency to another in order to maximize the effectiveness of the two agencies," Smalz says.

Seitz is not buying those arguments. He says he has asked fair housing agencies throughout the state to explain just how they think this bill will violate federal agreements.

“Would you please give us the specifics of why you believe this somehow guts and undermines the fair housing law and this they have failed to do to me,” Seitz says.

Seitz says the bill will not cause the state to lose money or be in conflict with federal laws.  Even so, he says he is asked the Legislative agency that drafts bills to take a closer look at this one to make sure. 

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