COLUMBUS (WMCH)– As a recently retired social aid worker, Kim Williams contacted Better Call 4 desperate for answers on skyrocketing rent prices facing several tenants she knows.

“I came to you because I need answers and I need help,” said Williams.

Williams says she has always been a passionate advocate for helping others in need, and at least 6 tenants facing eviction asked her for help.

“This is a statewide problem and our local government, they need to get involved because it just seems to me that the landlords are just doing whatever they want to do,” said Williams.

“A couple people came to me, and they have Section 8 vouchers or different programs, government programs, or just disabled or common working people that they couldn’t find housing,” she added.

When she asked the tenants why they told her landlords are raising their rents and income requirements.

“And that the housing landlords, leasing agents, and realtors want you to have 2-3 times the rent, which is just not feasible if you’re on disability or if you have a HUD government program,” Williams added.

So, she started calling housing lists from local agencies.

“I say hundreds, I have, I’ve called hundreds, I’ve been diligent about trying to find these people housing who are going to be homeless,” she said.

She turned to Better Call 4, and we took her concerns to The Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

“This is happening across the country,” said Melissa Benson.

As the managing attorney of the housing team at Legal Aid, Benson says rent prices have increased 9.2 percent across the country in the first half of 2021.

“We are seeing more than ever our clients who have section 8 vouchers struggling to find places,” said Benson.

She says the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) administers Section 8 vouchers, often referred to as subsidies when a tenant meets the qualifications.

“When there is that voucher in place, it is possible that CMHA would say, no you can’t raise the rent to that amount if you want to still have this voucher, this is the maximum that you can have it, that would be part of their role in this,” said Benson.

Benson tells NBC4 it is not uncommon for landlords to say a tenant needs to make a certain amount of money in order to rent because they are trying to determine if a tenant can make the monthly payments.

“When there’s a section 8 voucher, that calculation is different though because the tenant’s portion is only 30 percent of their income,” she added.

She also notes landlords privately own the property and in some areas of Central Ohio, they can decide whether or not to enter into the contract with the tenant and CMHA for the Section 8 voucher.

“In the city of Columbus, landlords are not allowed to decline a voucher, the city passed source of income protections earlier this year, but that’s just within the boundaries of the city of Columbus, some of the suburbs have it as well but not all of them,” Benson added.

So, she wants Williams to understand that every tenant she is helping might have different specifications outlined with their lease or certain protections based on the neighborhood in which they reside. In short, are landlords allowed to raise the rent?

Benson says, “Technically, yes…at the end of that lease period, either party regardless of whether there’s a voucher can choose not to renew the lease or can ask for terms to be changed in the lease.”

She says property owners are not allowed to discriminate against tenants based on race, gender, veteran status, or disability, but income does not fall under those protections.

However, Benson says, “Apartment complexes in the Source of Income Protection regions are not allowed to say you have to make X amount of money and you can’t have it be from any other source other than work, they have to count social security in that, they have to count the amount that a voucher would pay as part of the tenant’s income.”

Benson advises all tenants to actively communicate with their landlords throughout the term of their lease and to get any communication in writing. She says an email, text message or letter that shows proof of documentation about the agreement will be important when there is a dispute.

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