Senate Bill Uncuts Fair Housing Law Protections and Enforcement

On June 24, 2014 Senator Bill Seitz introduced Senate Bill 349, which purpose is described by the Legislative Services Commission as “to make permissive actual damages and attorney’s fees, to limit certain punitive damages, to allow respondents to recover attorney’s fees in certain instances, to prohibit actual or punitive damages from being awarded to a fair housing agency, and to exempt certain landlords from the housing provisions of the Ohio Civil Rights Law.” This bill, if enacted, will greatly weaken the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s (OCRC) enforcement of Ohio’s fair housing (housing discrimination) laws and the remedies available to victims of housing discrimination. The ability of the respondents (landlords) to recover damages from tenants and homebuyers after any OCRC “no probable cause” finding or OCRC hearing would also have a chilling effect on filing housing discrimination charges with the OCRC.

The Ohio Poverty Law Center has joined with a coalition of legal aids and fair housing advocates to oppose this damaging bill. This coalition has created a Brief History of Ohio Fair Housing and Talking Points to assist the coalition, inform the media and the public, and help others who wish to add their voices to the opposition. To summarize, Ohio was one of the first states to enact fair housing legislation, and over the years has broadened the categories of persons protected by this law, most recently adding “military status” as a protected class. The OCRC administrative complaint process allows complaints to be filed and pursued without the burden of the costs of a lawsuit that might be filed in state or federal court. Among other things, this bill undermines this cost effective dispute resolution option and forces victims into costly court litigation. It discourages victims from attempting to vindicate their rights by making them potentially liable for the attorneys fees of those who discriminate.
The Brief History and Talking Points can be accessed here.
Also, for more information, contact Senior Attorney Mike Smalz at msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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