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Cincinnati City Council passes legislation helping renters afford security deposits

Posted at 1:18 AM, Jan 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-18 14:28:34-05

CINCINNATI — City Council on Thursday passed a first-of-its-kind law meant to lighten the financial burden of paying a security deposit on a new apartment.

The new law, nicknamed renters choice, gives renters within the city three new options for paying a security deposit if they cannot afford it all at once.

The first, rental insurance, would require them to pay a small extra fee each month instead of fronting the cash before they move in.

The second is an installment plan: Renters can pay their security deposit over the course of their first six months of tenancy.

The third is by paying a reduced security deposit, which can be no more than the equivalent of 50% of the tenant’s monthly rent. (Often, security deposits are double the monthly rent or more.)

Proponents of the bill such as Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Mayor John Cranley have described it as an innovative act of social justice — one that removes one of the largest and most significant up-front hurdles for poor families in their search for housing.

Pamela Kaufman, who lives in Wyoming, said she and her children have experienced the struggle firsthand.

“The location you want in, the rent may range from $750 to $1000. If it’s $1000, normally they want the security deposit of $1,000” on top of the first month’s rent, she said. “If you don’t have that $1,000, the option to move is no longer there. … It takes money out of my pocket, money out of the kids’ mouth. It takes away from the food budget, clothing budget, transportation budget.

“It’s basically just giving money to a property owner to say, ‘Hey, I won’t damage your property.’”

Kaufman would no longer be hard-pressed to pay a security deposit, she added, but described renters choice as a piece of legislation that could have been life-changing for her past self.

Community engagement agency Cohear and its founder, Dani Isaacsohn, hope renters choice is only the beginning.

“Hopefully it’s part of a broader package that starts to shift the power toward the tenants,” Isaacsohn said. “My hope is that this legislation gets more people into quality, affordable, safe housing sooner.”

The legislation will take effect in 90 days. Landlords who own 25 units or fewer are exempt.