Things often move quickly when lawmakers operate in lame-duck sessions. Legislation once with dim prospects of advancing suddenly gets folded into a fast-moving bill and lands on the governor’s desk. Is such a turn of events now in the works for House Bill 390, an odious measure that would result in higher numbers of evictions and homeless?
The signs are troubling. The legislation showed up last week as part of Senate Bill 273, a proposal covering a range of insurance matters, including the definition of a rating agency and provisions to enhance cybersecurity. On Thursday, S.B. 273 cleared the House Insurance Committee by a 10-0 vote, some members, apparently, unaware that H.B. 390 had been attached. The next step is the House floor. The Ohio Senate already has approved a version of the larger insurance legislation.
So, the moment is here to either halt the progress of S.B. 273 or find a way to detach H.B. 390.
What is particularly awful about the latter?
Proponents describe its purpose as little more than bringing needed clarity to state law about the days of notice a landlord must give a tenant before proceeding with an eviction. Practically everyone agrees with the three days currently in the law. Unfortunately, the law does not establish whether they are calendar days or business days. H.B. 390 would set the notice at three calendar days.
Bill Faith, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, calls the change “unnecessary and petty.” He is right on both counts. If Ohio courts have divided on the question, the overwhelming majority have sided with three business days, something lawmakers would do well to echo for clarity — and out of decency.
Recall that the first purpose in setting the three days is allowing time to make a transition or otherwise deal with the situation, if temporarily. Three calendar days mean including holidays and weekends, thus tilting toward the narrowest amount of time.
It doesn’t take a leap to imagine tenants unable to access needed services and businesses if an eviction notice arrives on a Friday or the day before Christmas. It hardly is unreasonable to see the time extended to a Tuesday or Wednesday. Those court jurisdictions observing business days have not cited an emerging crisis or even much of a problem.
This is housing at stake, research long showing the crucial role it plays in building and sustaining stable lives. Advocates stress that an eviction filing can be hard to overcome. It enters the public record, landlords in the future reluctant to rent. More, an eviction can set in motion a steep fall, perhaps into homelessness, a job lost, inflicting deeper trauma for children. In that way, it makes sense to allow Ohioans in dire positions the full measure of those three days to find an alternative and hold their lives together.
House Bill 390 promises more evictions, more homeless and additional social costs. To gain what in return? It is hard to see any real benefit coming to communities or the state. This legislation isn’t just shortsighted. It is mean-spirited.
The hope is that House legislative leaders will halt its advance, or at least, in delivering clarity, begin pushing to establish in the law notice of three business days for evictions. Those down on their luck or otherwise in a tough place deserve nothing less.