Eviction defense – repairs needed at rental unit

In Ohio, if the tenant is in breach of the lease agreement, especially for unpaid rent, there are very few defenses to a landlord’s cause of action for eviction. If the tenant complains at the hearing that the landlord is not fixing things around the rented premises, then most Magistrates or Judges are going to ask the tenant whether or not the tenant escrowed the rent under Ohio Revised Code Section 5321.07. Most tenants will answer this question in the negative, explaining that they did not know that this was a remedy available to them.

The Magistrate or Judge will then explain that the landlord’s failure to fix things around the apartment is not a defense to the eviction action, and that the proper thing for the tenant to have done was to escrow the rent money with the court pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 5321.05. If the tenant has no other defenses to the eviction, then the eviction should be able to proceed.

The only way that the landlord’s failure to fix things around the apartment could be seen as a defense to the eviction action would be if the failure to fix somehow made it impossible for the tenant to pay rent. The tenant could argue that since an eviction is an equitable remedy, the landlord must come to the court with “clean hands” meaning that his own conduct must not be the cause of the problem of which he complains. Perhaps the tenant complained to the landlord that the lock on the backdoor was old and was no longer working and that the home was insecure. Perhaps the tenant provides evidence that the landlord ignored this problem. Perhaps the tenant then provides evidence via a police report that someone slipped in through the backdoor while the tenant was at work and stole the tenant’s paycheck, checkbook, and $300.00 in cash from a drawer in the kitchen. A judge in Ohio could find that this is a defense to the eviction, because the landlord’s conduct in failing to fix the lock caused the problem of which the landlord now complains.