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K&D Management LLC v. Deirdre Masten

K&D Management LLC v. Deirdre Masten, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District, 2013-Ohio-2905 (July 3, 2013)
Issue: Is a holdover tenant prohibited from alleging Ohio Revised Code 4112 discriminatory retaliation (as opposed to ORC 5321.02 retaliation) during an eviction proceeding — and, if not, must the discrimination allegation be resolved by the court prior to granting the eviction?

Summary: Deirdre Masten had a one-year lease with landlord K&D. During the lease, Masten reported unlawful discrimination, and so was therefore protected against retaliation under ORC 4112.02(I). K&D subsequently issued a notice of non-renewal of Masten’s lease, requiring her to vacate the property at the end of the lease. Masten remained on the property after the expiration of the lease, thus becoming a “holdover” tenant.
K&D filed an eviction action. Masten answered the complaint and also filed a counterclaim alleging that she was being evicted due to unlawful retaliation under ORC 4112. The trial court granted summary judgment on K&D’s action for eviction — ordering Masten to leave the premises within 30 days — but allowed Masten’s allegations in her counterclaim to proceed. In short, the trial court ordered Masten to vacate the premises even though she might subsequently prevail on her counterclaim, rendering the eviction unlawful, but too late to be of any relief.
Ohio’s landlord/tenant law, ORC 5321.02, prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants who report violations. Another Ohio law, ORC 1923, provides landlords with a speedy mechanism for evicting “holdover” tenants who remain on the property after the lease expires. These provisions collide in ORC 5321.03(A)(4), which prohibits holdover tenants from “slowing down” the speedy eviction process by raising ORC 5321.02 retaliation as a defense to their eviction.
Outcome: On appeal, the Eighth District noted the tension between the competing interests — a landlord’s right to speedily reclaim its property from a holdover tenant and a tenant’s right under ORC 4112 to be free from unlawful discrimination. While ORC 5321.03(A)(4) contains a general prohibition against affirmative defenses — including retaliation — in an eviction action against holdover tenants, the Eighth District held that the lower court erred in not allowing Masten to assert her retaliation defense against K&D’s eviction action. Noting the remedial purpose of ORC 4112, and the liberal construction required by ORC 4112.08, the court vacated the eviction and remanded the case to allow Masten the opportunity to present any evidence she might have that her lease was not renewed due to discriminatory retaliation.
By way of acknowledging the competing interests, the court noted, “Our decision is not, however, intended to make a trial court a prisoner to tenants’ assertions of discriminatory practices.” A tenant must still be able to make out a prima facie case for discrimination.  “Nonspecific, conclusory statements without factual support will not overcome a properly supported motion for summary judgment.” In short, eviction of a holdover tenant can still be speedy — unless the tenant is able to present evidence supporting a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. When the tenant — even a holdover tenant — presents such evidence as a defense to the eviction, the court must decide the discrimination issue before granting the eviction.
Legal Significance: A trial court must resolve allegations of discriminatory eviction prior to granting the actual eviction.