ACLU of Ohio deems Painesville's rental housing program unconstitutional, discriminatory

PAINESVILLE, Ohio - The City of Painesville is under fire from the ACLU of Ohio over its nearly 20-year-old Crime Free Rental Housing Program.

In an eight-page letter to the city, the ACLU said the program "violates statutory and constitutional law." 

Letter to Painesville 2-23-18-Signed by Wews WebStaff on Scribd

The program, which is required for all registered landlords and originated in Arizona, is a one-day class that educates landlords on what to look for while screening for potential tenants. 

Landlords are encouraged to screen tenants on their criminal and work history.

“We’re just educating them on how to do background checks appropriately to protect their investment and to keep the community a pro-family community," City Manager Monica Irelan said.

According to a PowerPoint presentation provided by the City of Painesville, the city said "if we don't rent to criminals then: we keep them out of our community, we cut crime in rental property and we cut crime, city-wide overall." 

Exhibit A - Slides From Crime Free Program by Wews WebStaff on Scribd

But in its letter to the city, the ACLU said this program "functionally bars numerous individuals with criminal records from living in Painesville although their criminal records do not indicate any risk to the safety of people or property." 

"This makes everyone housing insecure who has any kind of criminal record," Elizabeth Bonham, an attorney with the ACLU, said.

Bonham said the program hugely impacts people of color, women and people with disabilities. 

“Largely because of bias policing practices, black and brown Ohioans are much more likely to have criminal records," Bonham said. "And so the use of a crime-free policy like this is going to have a disproportionate impact, making those folks less housing secure." 

The ACLU also attacked the city's Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinance.

"It allows us to communicate with the landlord if there are specific laws that have been broken by their tenant, and it allows the landlord to know what their tenant is up to on their property within their facility," Irelan said.

But Bonham said oftentimes when this happens, landlords are fined and, in turn, evicting their tenants. 

"Just to give you an example, if a woman is a tenant and is experiencing domestic violence and she calls the police for help, the police might come and respond to that call. But then they might send the landlord a nuisance letter. The landlord has the choice of paying the fine or evicting the woman because she's a victim of abuse." 

Painesville city leaders and members of the ACLU recently met and decided to put both the program and ordinance on hold as they examine the policy.

The city will send one of its police officers to training in Colorado about the program next week. 

“If it comes back and it says we’re in compliance with the law, then we’ll keep it the way it is," Ireland said. "And if there's something wrong we'll update what needs to be updated."

"My hope is that they take the constitutional problems with it seriously and consider a repeal,” Bonham said.

The ACLU said they also sent similar letters to other Northeast Ohio communities about similar constitutional violations. 

Exhibit B - Registration Forms by Wews WebStaff on Scribd

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