City Council met Monday evening to discuss housing regulations for renters and tow truck regulations.
Councilman Ben Ziff, D-At Large, introduced an ordinance regarding tenants' right to pay-to-stay, which would allow tenants who fail to pay rent due to unforeseen events avoid eviction.
Multiple community members volunteered to comment on the ordinance and expressed their hope for it to be passed.
Lucy Schwallie, the managing attorney at Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, spoke to Council about how the ordinance could help the clients with whom she works. Schwallie told Council about a client who was evicted after failing to pay rent because she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was unable to work.
Ziff said Ohio is one of only five states that allows landlords to evict tenants immediately if they miss a rent payment.
“Evictions for non-payment of rent lead to regional vulnerabilities that prolong economic instability, create educational impairments for children displaced by evictions, increase costs to the homeless system and negatively impact communities’ stability and relationships,” Ziff said.
Katherine King, an Athens resident and member of United Athens County Tenants, spoke to Council about other benefits of the right to pay-to stay, including added protections for tenants who face sexual harassment by their landlords.
“Landlords can exploit their ability to evict tenants as soon as they are late on rent — we've seen this happen in the past when landlords want to retaliate against their tenants for turning down sexual favors,” King said.
An ordinance introduced by Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, to set regulations on towing companies in Athens sparked discussion among the Council and Athens residents.
Risner said the ordinance is meant to establish towing fees by the Public Utilities Commission and align Athens’ laws with state laws.
Councilman Alan Swank, D-4th Ward, and Councilwoman Solveig Spjeldnes, D-1st Ward, argued for the ordinance to be tabled until Athens needs such an ordinance. Athens voted to table the ordinance but it failed in a three to four vote.
"It seems to me we ought to be somewhat careful about who (towing companies) does this and how it's handled,” Spjeldnes said. “Rather than someone does make this mistake, and they have to figure it out if they were treated badly or towed unfairly. They have to go through some state body to figure this out. That's just not going to happen for people who are at the lower end of the income scale and are working paycheck to paycheck.”
Additionally, Councilman Micah McCarey, D-At Large, announced Athens' Juneteenth celebration will take place on June 18, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on College Green at Ohio University.