Can I withhold rent money from my landlord?
A guide to rent escrow in Hamilton County, Ohio

When tenants believe their landlords are not upholding their legal obligations, can they withhold rent?

The only legal way to withhold rent in Ohio is through Rent Escrow. This is when tenants deposit their rent with the court rather than pay it to the landlord.

On this page you can find details about:

  • The Basics of Rent Escrow
  • How a Tenant can start a Rent Escrow
  • What happens after Rent Escrow is filed
  • What happens at a Rent Escrow Hearing

Contacts for Health & Building Inspectors

If you are concerned with the living conditions in your rental home in Cincinnati or Hamilton County, reach out for help.

Cincinnati Health Department

Phone: 513-352-2908

Address: “Healthy Homes Division” 1525 Elm Street, Cincinnati OH, 45202

Cincinnati Property Maintenance Code Enforcement

Phone: 513-352-3275

Address: 805 Central Ave Suite 500, Cincinnati OH, 45202

The Basics of Rent Escrow

What is rent escrow?

What does it mean to put rental payments into escrow?

Rent escrow allows tenants to deposit their rent with the Clerk of Courts if they reasonably believe the landlord failed to meet its obligations under the law or a lease agreement. 

If properly filed, rent escrow protects the tenant from evictions for nonpayment of rent. 

Tenants can still be evicted for other lease violations and could be evicted for nonpayment if they stop paying their rent into escrow after they started. 

Are any landlords exempt from rent escrow?

Under Ohio law, are there any situations when tenants can't put rent into escrow?

Yes, some Ohio landlords are exempt from rent escrow rules.

If a landlord with three or fewer dwelling units provides the tenant written notice of the fact that the landlord leases three or fewer dwelling units at the time of the initial occupancy, they could be exempt. 

Can a tenant file a rent escrow after an eviction is already filed?

If your landlord has brought an eviction lawsuit against you, can you start putting rent into escrow with the court?

Usually no, tenants facing an eviction lawsuit can't begin to put rent in escrow. 

Escrow requires a tenant to be up-to-date in rent and give the landlord a 30-day notice (see below). If these requirements aren’t met, the escrow wouldn’t help. 

What if the tenant stops paying escrow, or pays late?

What happens if you had started putting your rent into escrow with the court, but then don't do it? Or you do it after rent is usually due?

If you stop paying rent into escrow, you could be evicted for nonpayment of rent. 

This also applies if you pay rent into escrow late, after the rent is due. You may be evicted for nonpayment.

Can a tenant have their rental home inspected?

Can they request a property inspection, based on concerns with the quality of the home?

Yes, the tenant is allowed to call the building and/or health inspectors. 

Tenants on Section 8 are also allowed to ask for an inspection from Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA).  Or you can call CMHA at 513-721-4580 and ask about an inspection of your home.

The Cincinnati Property Maintenance Code Enforcement is here.  This can help you understand how the city deals with home safety hazards, building repairs, and quality of life concerns. Call them at 513-352-3275.

The Cincinnati Health Department is here. This government agency is in charge of health problems in neighborhoods, including around pests, mold, lead, water, and other concerns. The phone number for mold, insect, and housing complaints is 513-352-2908.

Starting a Rent Escrow

How can a tenant start a rent escrow?

If you think the landlord is not following their obligations under the law or your lease, how can you start paying rent into escrow with the court?

To begin a rent escrow, the basic step-by-step is as follows in Hamilton County, Ohio.

  1. Tenant decides to start escrow: The tenant reasonably believes that the landlord is breaching its duties under law or the written lease. Or the building or health inspector has determined the landlord has violated health, safety or building codes that materially affect health and safety. Landlord duties under law are here.
  2. Written Notice to Landlord: The tenant must provide the landlord with a written notice of the issues. The tenant must send this written notice where rent is normally paid. A sample written notice is here.
  3. Wait for Landlord to Fix: Tenant must wait a full 30 days or a reasonable time to allow the landlord to fix the problems. A “reasonable time” would be determined by the court considering the severity of the issue. If the court does not find the tenant gave a “reasonable time,” it could dismiss the rent escrow. 
  4. On-Time Rent Payments: Tenant must be up-to-date on all rent payments.
  5. File a Rent Escrow Application: Tenant goes to court with an application to begin paying rent into escrow. Find the application form here.
  6. Begin paying rent to Court: If the landlord has not fixed the issues, the tenant can deposit their rent to the Clerk of Courts. 

When the tenant follows these steps, they will need a few things to begin paying rent to escrow with the Court:

  • Property Owner Details: The name and address of the legal owner of the property
  • Rental Payment: A money order or cash for the amount of rent
  • Written Notice Copy:  A copy of the written notice they provided to the landlord. 

Pay your rent escrow at the Clerk of Courts at the Courthouse. Escrows are accepted daily until 3:30 P.M. in room 115 of the Courthouse. See a Rent Escrow Application form here.

For help with this process, visit the Help Center in room 113 of the Courthouse. 

After a Rent Escrow is Filed

What will happen after you file a Rent Escrow?

What happens to the money? What happens if my landlord challenges it, or tries to evict me?

After the escrow is filed, the path of the case is determined by what the parties do

Can a landlord and tenant come to an agreement to resolve the Rent Escrow?

If the two parties are able to fix their dispute, how do they get the money from the court? How do you avoid a lawsuit about the Rent Escrow?

Yes, a Rent Escrow can be released without a lawsuit.

If the landlord and tenant come to an agreement, they can ask for the money to be released by the Clerk according to what is in the agreement. 

Please be sure that the agreement is written down, and that both sides agree.

What can tenant ask for regarding a Rent Escrow?

How can the renter make sure their problems are addressed?

A tenant can ask the court for several things, regarding their Rent Escrow.

  • Money returned to them: The tenant can ask the court for money back out of escrow because the landlord did not fix the issues.
  • End of lease: The tenant could ask the court to terminate a written lease based on the issues.
  • Court order for repairs: The tenant could ask the court to issue an order for landlord to make repairs to fix the issues.

What can the landlord ask for regarding a Rent Escrow?

How can they get access to the rental payments a tenant has made to the court?

The landlord can file a Rent Escrow Complaint with the court, if they believe the escrow should be terminated and the funds should be returned to them. 

A sample Rent Escrow Complaint for landlords is here.

The reasons the court can return the funds to the landlord are:

  • Issues Fixed: The condition contained in the notice has been remedied by the landlord.
  • No Written Notice: The tenant did not give written notice of the condition to the landlord at the location that rent is paid.
  • No Reasonable Time: The tenant has not given the landlord a reasonable amount of time (30 days) to repair the condition.
  • Behind on Rent: The tenant was not current in rent payments under the rental agreement at the time of filing the application.
  • No Legal Violation: There was no violation of the landlord’s duties under Ohio Law. 
  • Tenant Fault: The condition specified in the notice was the result of an act or omission of the tenant and not the landlord.
  • Bad Faith: The tenant submitted notice to the landlord in “bad faith.”

Is there anything the tenant needs to do if the landlord files a Rent Escrow complaint?

If the landlord files a rent escrow complaint, the Tenant is required to file an Answer within 28 days. 

The Answer states defenses against what the landlord says in the complaint. 

If the tenant believes they should receive the rent escrow money back themselves, they would also need to file a counterclaim stating claims against the landlord. 

A sample Rent Escrow Answer and Counterclaim are here.

What happens at a rent escrow hearing?

If a landlord brings a complaint to get the money, what will happen at court?

A rent escrow hearing occurs after a landlord files a rent escrow complaint or the tenant has filed a motion.

In any rent escrow hearing, the tenant will have to prove that he/she has met the requirements of escrow.

The general structure of a rent escrow hearing is:

  1. Opening statements for both the tenant and landlord.
  2. Calling of witnesses and presenting evidence. During this time, both parties will be able to ask questions of witnesses and cross-examine them.
  3. Closing statements in which both parties can summarize their points.

What should I bring to a Rent Escrow Hearing?

The landlord and tenant may bring the following to court, to support their side of the case:

  • Printed Photos: Bring any photos of the conditions of the property. They can help show the problems or repairs. Make sure you print them.
  • DVD of Videos: You can also bring any video of the conditions of the property. This should be on a DVD disc.
  • Other Documents: Also bring any documents that can prove that the conditions exist. These should be printed as well.
  • Witnesses: Bring people who can attest to the conditions of the property. This can including health or building inspectors. You may want to subpoena the inspectors so that they appear at the hearing.
© 2019 Hamilton County Municipal Help Center