CINCINNATI — Rayna Moore moved into the Kennedy Heights duplex where she lives when her son, Chase, was still an infant.
It was everything she wanted: A home in the Pleasant Ridge Montessori School community on a dead-end street with welcoming neighbors where kids could safely play outside.
For nearly four years, Moore and her son lived there happily.
That changed on the evening of Sept. 2 when Moore’s son noticed their Black Lives Matter sign was missing from the yard. Moore found out later that her landlords had it removed. Within a few weeks, the landlords gave Moore a notice that her lease would not be renewed.
She and her son must move out by the end of this month.
“Legally here in Ohio, they don’t have to renew my lease. But, again, I’ve been living here for four years without incident, have been pretty much a model tenant, had prior to this what I thought was a great relationship with the landlords,” Moore said. “The only conclusion to draw is that my lease is not being renewed because of the Black Lives Matter sign and sort of the contention it has created amongst the neighbors.”
Her landlords, Tedra and Gordon Green, insist there is no connection. In written responses to WCPO 9’s questions, the Greens said the Black Lives Matter sign was removed because it was a violation of the terms of Moore’s lease.
They said they did not renew Moore’s lease so they could use the lower level of the property, where Moore currently lives, for family members when they visit from out of town. They said they might make renovations to the space, too. The Greens live on the upper level of the property.
“We cannot stress enough that the removal of this sign was not intended in any way to create a hostile situation,” they wrote in an email in response to WCPO 9's request for an interview.
“We wish to reiterate that Ms. Moore’s claims are clearly inflammatory, baseless, and any implication by Ms. Moore of discriminatory action in any fashion would leave us with zero option other than to formally involve legal counsel,” the Greens wrote in response to follow-up questions about their initial email. “At present and moving forward, we share no desire to continue defending ourselves from Ms. Moore’s unfounded accusations and substandard handling of her move out process.”
The story could end there as a tenant-landlord dispute. Moore and some of her neighbors said they feel there is a bigger message related to Black lives.
‘Diverse in many ways’
Moore wasn’t the only person with a Black Lives Matter sign on display.
Over the summer people in a Facebook group for Moore’s neighborhood came up with a plan to purchase Black Lives Matter signs in bulk and display them in a show of solidarity.
When WCPO 9 interviewed Moore outside the duplex she rents, Black Lives Matter signs were posted in yard after yard up and down the street.
“In the 1950s when we sort of had a lot of white folks moving into Black suburbs and those things were happening, Kennedy Heights said we’re going to be different, and we’re actually going to remain integrated,” said Kate Hanisian, one of Moore’s neighbors. “What we love about this street is that there are Black children and white children. There’s apartments. There’s ownership. It’s really mixed in many ways. It’s diverse in many ways.”
“That is something that not just Rayna and I value but something that the community values,” Hanisian added, “which is why I think this situation was so disappointing.”
Moore bought her Black Lives Matter sign as part of the bulk purchase and put it outside on June 16. The Greens were out of town at the time, she said, and returned June 20.
Moore said she and the Greens saw each other and interacted on almost a daily basis after they returned, but her landlords didn’t say anything about the sign.
When Moore’s son noticed the sign was gone on Sept. 2, Moore said she texted the landlords to ask if they had seen it or if people doing landscaping work had moved it. The following morning, Tedra Green sent her a text saying she hadn’t seen the sign but would keep an eye out for it. Gordon Green sent her a text later that day saying that he supports “the BLM movement and all of the positive it stands for” but that media reports had highlighted “the criminal actions of the few.”
“These events have truly upset and divided our nation further,” he wrote in the text message, a copy of which Moore provided to WCPO 9.
Green noted that Moore had placed the sign in the yard without asking permission and said that was a violation of the terms of her lease.
“With the current economic and political climate becoming increasingly combustible, I cannot allow any undue burden onto the property,” the text said. “For the time being no signs shall be placed on the premises in a public fashion.”
In their written statement to WCPO 9, the Greens said that “signs of any nature must be removed as per the lease. In accordance with local law, we must enforce terms of the lease without regard to the content of any such sign. This ensures fair treatment of all our residents and maintains a safe non-confrontational environment for all residents and neighbors.”
The Greens did not address the timing of their decision to remove the sign in their response to WCPO 9 but said it was “of great concern that Ms. Moore has elected to choose the media route to discuss a simple issue, rather than a quick text, call, or even a neighborly knock on the door. There truly is no issue of mal intent toward Ms. Moore. Truth of the matter, we have been dear friends for over a year and care deeply for Ms. Moore and Chase.”
“They have been delightful neighbors,” the statement said, adding that the Greens “hope for the absolute best for her family.”
When the lease is law
Moore said she doesn’t understand why the Greens didn’t text, call or knock on her door to discuss the sign before having it removed. The Greens told WCPO 9 that the sign was placed in a common area in the property’s basement. Moore said she never saw it there.
“I have really loved and enjoyed this neighborhood and have brought my son up here,” Moore said. “To have this happen at the hands of people I thought I was very close with, it has been difficult.”
As a tenant, though, there is not much Moore can do, said Megan Hatch, an associate professor at Cleveland State University who has done extensive research on landlord-tenant law.
“The laws set out a basis of behavior, and most landlord-tenant laws talk about the responsibilities that landlords have, the responsibilities that tenants have and then what happens if each party doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do,” Hatch said. “Then everything else is sort of left to the lease.”
Leases cannot have clauses that are discriminatory, that violate the federal Fair Housing Act or that violate state or local laws, she said. Beyond those guidelines, the lease is what governs the relationship between the landlord and tenant, she said.
“What often happens is that the landlord has a lot more power in this relationship,” Hatch said. “They’re often the ones who write the lease.”
Tenants who believe they have been discriminated against should contact their local fair housing organization, she said, which in Cincinnati would be HOME Cincinnati, or Housing Opportunities Made Equal.
While Hatch is not a lawyer, she said she doesn’t think removal of a Black Lives Matter sign could be viewed as a violation of First Amendment rights either.
“You can’t do all the things that you might be able to do if you own the property,” she said.
Hanisian said she and many of Moore’s other neighbors are upset by the idea that a Black Lives Matter sign could be viewed as divisive or political.
“While I have empathy for and deep concern about the political divide that’s happening in this country, the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ means something strongly to those folks that have had to experience oppression or systemic oppression,” Hanisian said. “To politicize that statement politicizes the lives of human bodies that matter.”
Now Moore and her son are staying with relatives while she looks for a new place for them to live in the community she said she still loves.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.