Cleveland city leaders have reported a growing number of tenants are being victimized by unscrupulous landlords who rent them condemned homes.
Cleveland Councilman Tony Brancatelli said in many cases tenants are unaware the home they're renting is condemned when putting down hundreds in rent and security deposits.
Brancatelli said it's a situation that has tragic consequences when families are later evicted, or the utilities are cut-off, because the landlord hasn't paid the bills, or the house is deemed uninhabitable by the health or building department.
Brancatelli pointed to one family that was left homeless after renting a house on Forman Avenue that was condemned; the owner was more than $20,000 behind in property taxes.
Brancatelli said these homeowners often quit claiming the deeds to these condemned houses multiple times to avoid city prosecution and demolition proceedings.
"We're seeing this happen more an more," Brancatelli said.
"The guy got the house on a quit claim, he didn't pay the bills, the water got shut-off and this family is now on the streets."
"That creates a huge problem, both in terms of enforcement, as well as for these young families who move into these houses not knowing the property is condemned," he said.
Cleveland Housing Court is trying to fight back by placing a "no rent order" on condemned homes, but Brancatelli said changes in state law are needed to prevent condemned homes from changing ownership so easily, keeping them on the rental market.
"We need to make it harder to trade these toxic quit claims titles back and forth from owner to owner," Brancatelli said.
"This guy took the title to it knowing there was $20,000 in back taxes., knowing that it's condemned, because we have a disclosure form, but they're still out renting it and taking cash from these families."
Brancatelli said renters should do their homework and make sure the home is not in financial or structural distress before signing a lease or putting down any money.
Renters need to go to housing court if they're facing eviction, so the court can take action against the homeowner and help them find temporary housing.