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Need to Force a Landlord to Make Repairs? Escrow Works, Sometimes

a photo of a multi unit housing structure
It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of Akron residents live in rental housing.

Liksha Hoskins was thrilled to see her new townhouse near Green, Ohio came with a dishwasher. She wasn’t so thrilled the first night she used it. She woke up to water flooding her kitchen. 

“I checked under the sink and saw the pipes weren’t connected.” 

That was one of several repairs the property owners needed to make. Many of them were small and could have been fixed quickly, Hoskins said. 

“The builders didn’t install shelving underneath the bathroom sink. The bedroom windows won’t open.” 

Empty promises
The property manager promised to take care of things, but nothing happened. “I kept getting the runaround from the apartment manager,” Hoskins said. “Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months.” 

'Going to court in general is intimidating for people that aren't attorneys.'

Hoskins moved into the townhouse in October. At the beginning of February, she started paying rent to Akron Municipal Court instead of her landlord. She’d begun the escrow process. 

Holding rent in escrow
Escrow payments are the primary resource for tenants coping with recalcitrant landlords. The process seems fairly cut and dried. A tenant mails the landlord with a list of repairs, and gives him or her 30 days to fix them. If the request isn’t met, the tenant pays rent to the local municipal court instead of the landlord. The court holds on to the money until the dispute is resolved.  

In reality, escrow can be a complicated process. The tenant must meet a number of requirements, starting with being current with rent and paying to the court in full and on time during escrow. 

That’s why Hoskins says she mailed her rent when the court closed during the pandemic. If she didn’t, she risked eviction and forfeiting the back payments to the landlord. 

A photo of attorney Dawn Spriggs of Community Legal Aid
Attorney Dawn Spriggs works with a client at a Community Legal Aid outreach clinic at Mason Elementary in Akron.

Dawn Spriggs is a supervising attorney with Community Legal Aid in Akron. She says many tenants in escrow pay rent in person at the courthouse, which can be difficult for those relying on friends or public transportation.

“With rent escrow cases, it’s extremely important that when you start the process, you’re doing it on or before your rent is due. If you do it via mail, you’re risking it not getting there timely.” 

But Spriggs says paying rent in escrow is just a  small hardship in a “difficult and intimidating process.”  

“Once the process gets going, the landlord often will hire an attorney to represent themselves. Then they’ll file a complaint in response, or a motion, and the tenant is in a situation where they’ll have a trial, they have hearings,” she says. “There’s a lot to the process once it’s started.”

Same process, different results
Court records show how wide-ranging  the escrow process can be. Cases can be as simple as Briana Ashley’s. 

Ashley lived on York St. in Akron. On Dec. 2, 2019, Ashley filed an escrow case against her landlord, Investors Vault Limited. On Dec. 18, she filed a motion requesting the case be closed and rent be given to the landlord because “the property management has remedied the issues...and we believe it has been completed to our satisfaction.”  

rental property on York St in Akron
Briana Ashley used the escrow process to successfully seek repairs for this rental property in Akron.

Court records from Eli Starks’ case show the more complicated side of the escrow process. 

Last November, Starks filed for escrow with the Akron Municipal court. He claimed his landlord, Y2P Real Estate Holdings, neglected cleaning mold throughout the apartment.

But Starks listed the company’s name incorrectly; in fact the landlord was Y2P Market LLC. About two weeks after Starks started escrow, the company unsuccessfully filed to have the case dismissed because, “Y2P Real Estate Holdings LLC is not the owner of the premises.” A few days after the filing, Starks amended his complaint with the company’s correct name and the case proceeded. 

However, the company prevailed about a month later  when they noted Starks filed in Akron municipal court. He lived in Cuyahoga Falls and escrow cases must be filed in the municipality where the property is located. Because Stow municipal court covers Cuyahoga Falls, the company argued Akron had no jurisdiction over the case.

Starks never contested the motion, so the company won and received the back rent.

Neither lawyers for Starks or Y2P Market LLC responded to requests for comment.

Attorney Dawn Spriggs from Community Legal Aid says such complicated court proceedings can discourage tenants from using escrow.

“Going to court in general is intimidating for people that aren’t attorneys. A lot of tenants will just suffer through the bad housing conditions or as soon as they have the opportunity, leave and go somewhere else,” she says. 

And cases can drag on if the landlord refuses to make repairs - with the tenant paying rent to the court in escrow all the while. That’s where Liksha Hoskins is. She paid rent to the court on time in June, just like she’s done monthly since starting escrow in February. She says she’s still waiting on the repairs. 

Afi Scruggs is an independent journalist living in suburban Cleveland.

WKSU's reporting on the issue of eviction is funded through an Informed Communities Grant from The Cleveland Foundation and the Akron Community Foundation and is part of a collaboration with Spectrum News One Ohio.