An eviction in Ohio—particularly an eviction of residential property—is a heavily regulated process which contains significant legal protections for tenants. The process for handling an eviction is codified in the Ohio Revised Code Chapters 1923, 5303, and 5321. Where handling a residential eviction R.C. 5321.15(A) provides:
(A) No landlord of residential premises shall initiate any act, including termination of utilities or services, exclusion from the premises, or threat of any unlawful act, against a tenant, or a tenant whose right to possession has terminated, for the purpose of recovering possession of residential premises, other than as provided in Chapters 1923., 5303., and 5321. of the Revised Code.
Crawford v. Tivener, 5th Dist. Knox No. 15CA22, 2016-Ohio-6982, ¶ 8-9; R.C. 5321.15(A).
When a residential landlord attempts to circumvent the statutory requirements for eviction and wrongfully evicts a tenant by engaging in “self-help” eviction, the landlord invites significant liability. R.C. 5321.15(C) provides that a landlord who violates R.C. 5321.15 “is liable in a civil action for all damages caused to a tenant, or to a tenant whose right to possession has terminated, together with reasonable attorneys’ fees. Moreover, this statutory grant of attorneys’ fees under R.C. 5321.15(C) is mandatory where a tenant prevails under an R.C. 5321.15(C) action for wrongful eviction. See Crenshaw v. Rowland, 196 Ohio App.3d 717, 2011-Ohio-5942, 965 N.E.2d 341, ¶ 15 (6th Dist.) (“[W]hile the amount of attorneys’ fees due to a successful tenant in an R.C. 5321.15(C) action is a matter left to the trial court’s discretion, an award of reasonable fees is mandated by R.C. 5321.15(C).”).
Additionally, wrongful withholding of a security deposit can also potentially open landlords up liability for reasonable attorneys’ fees and statutory damages. R.C. 5321.16(C) provides that “[i]f a landlord fails to comply with [R.C. 5321.16(B)], the tenant may recover the property and money due him, together with reasonable attorneys’ fees.” Crenshaw at ¶ 15. Further, like the attorneys’ fees provision under R.C. 5321.15(C), this granting of attorneys’ fees and statutory damages under R.C. 5321.16(B) has been interpreted as mandatory by the Ohio Supreme Court. Id., citing Smith v. Padgett, 32 Ohio St.3d 344, 349, 513 N.E.2d 737 (1987) (“[U]nder R.C. 5321.16(B) and (C), a landlord who wrongfully withholds a portion of the tenant’s security deposit is liable for damages equal to twice the amount wrongfully withheld and for reasonable attorneys’ fees. Such liability is mandatory, even if the landlord gave the tenant an itemized list of deductions from the deposit pursuant to R.C. 5321.16(B).”).
Further, these statutory remedies are not exclusive remedies for tenants. Landlords who engage in wrongful eviction may also find themselves liable to tenants for tort claims arising under the common law. See Meacham v. Miller, 79 Ohio App.3d 35, 39, 606 N.E.2d 996 (4th Dist.1992), citing Shroades v. Rental Homes, 68 Ohio St.2d 20, 25, 427 N.E.2d 774 (1981) (“[The Ohio Supreme Court] held that the remedies available to tenants in R.C. Chapter 5321 are cumulative to those previously existing in tort law. The court found that the newer statutory remedies should act as preventative and supplemental measures to other legal remedies available for a landlord’s breach of duty.”). See also Thompson v. Allen, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 23292, 2010-Ohio-1133, ¶ 1-2, 13, 23 (affirming a judgment of $2,000 for converted property after finding that landlord disposed of tenant’s belongings without going through the legal process of eviction.).
In sum, Ohio law is clear that there is a mandate for landlords to engage in the eviction process as codified under the Ohio Revised Code. A failure to do so can potentially open landlords up to liability to tenants for statutory damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and damages for common-law tort claims. The best way for landlords to ensure they are protected from liability when handling evictions is confirming that when the need to evict arises, they call an attorney.
KWGD is fully equipped to handle eviction matters for landlords, and it makes sure it is done professionally and respectfully for all parties involved. Please contact Kyle W. Rea via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or his direct line at (330) 244-2874 to explore KWGD handling your evictions.
Kyle W. Rea, Esq.
Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty, Co., L.P.A.
4775 Munson St. NW, Canton, OH 44718