What you must know about Ohio Senate Bill 349

SB 349 hands Ohio discrimination remedies over to the federal government, meaning in practice that property owners and victims of discrimination will be forced into litigation. Also, SB 349 leaves some discrimination victims with no remedies at all.

SB 349 “would not prevent private landlords from being sued. It would simply push them into the federal arena, where courts can languish on decisions for years and where damage awards are much higher than at the state level.”
Ohio Civil Rights Commission
analysis of SB349
SB 349 hurts families with children, veterans and people with disabilities. SB 349 is bad both for Ohio’s housing providers and for Ohio’s housing consumers.

Contact your state senator now — and tell your senator to reject SB 349. To get your senator’s contact info and to see a sample email, look at the Advocacy box on this page.

To get more information about SB 349, keep reading.

SB 349 protects landlords who discriminate
and threatens the Ohio Civil Rights Commission

At the same time the nation was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act, a senate bill that protects discrimination was quietly hunting for co-sponsors.

The irony of the introduction of SB 349 by Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) in late June was not lost on advocates representing fair housing, legal aid and disability rights groups — all of whom denounced the bill as an attack on civil rights and an erosion of strong fair housing laws in Ohio.

Among other regressive measures, the bill would lower the penalties for housing discrimination and damage the important safeguards provided by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC). Ohio residents would either need to use the administrative process provided on the federal level through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or be forced to use attorneys to sue violators in state court. In addition, Ohio law would no longer be “substantially equivalent” to federal law, thus ending substantial HUD funding to our state.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Sets up conflict between state and federal fair housing law, thereby stripping Ohio of the approximately $1 million that HUD annually provides to the OCRC to investigate discrimination cases. The housing law conflict would prohibit the OCRC from accessing Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) dollars that support complaint processing, enforcement activities, training and other projects.
  • Diminishes the consequences of discrimination by lowering and capping the punitive damages that landlords found guilty of flagrant discrimination would have to pay.
  • Discourages victims of housing discrimination from filing a complaint to protect their rights by making them liable for the attorney’s fees of the party they accuse of discrimination if there is not enough evidence to prove their case.
  • Reduces legal challenges to discrimination by prohibiting state or local fair housing agencies from collecting actual or punitive damages.
  • Renders the OCRC unable to punish housing discrimination and forces cases into the more expensive and complex courts process.
  • Superficially mirrors some portions of federal law while gutting Ohio’s current protections from housing discrimination.

Ohio civil rights attorneys and fair housing advocates
speak out against SB 349

“By weakening Ohio’s housing discrimination law, Senate Bill 349 would threaten housing opportunities, the quality of education and health outcomes, and the availability of jobs for persons of color, persons with disabilities and families with children.”

Michael R. Smalz, Senior Attorney, Ohio Poverty Law Center, 614-824-2502

“SB 349 is a step backwards for Ohioans. Instead of ensuring equal opportunity, it renders civil rights laws virtually unenforceable within the Buckeye State and turns away $1M in annual funding from the federal government to enforce the fair housing laws. It is fundamentally un-American to deny equal opportunity to families with children and persons with disabilities. Senator Seitz should be ashamed, and Ohioans embarrassed, by his buffoonery.”

Michael P. Marsh, MA, CFRE, President/CEO, Toledo Fair Housing Center, 419-243-6163

“SB 349 would rob Ohio of its substantial equivalent status and its ability to investigate and adjudicate housing discrimination claims on the state level. Proponents of SB 349 are just plain wrong if they believe that they will have an easier time complying with civil rights laws administered from the federal level as opposed to at the state level.”

Jim McCarthy, President/CEO, Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, 937-223-6035

“SB 349 would significantly undercut the work of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and force hhousing discrimination complaints to the Federal level. Why would Ohio want to give up its control of civil rights issues? Does the real estate industry really think it is better off facing Federal investigators and Federal attorneys? This is not the time for the state of Ohio to gut its civil rights laws.”

Elizabeth Brown, Executive Director, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, 513-721-4663

“Everyone has the civil right of equal opportunity in housing. The current Ohio fair housing laws protect this right. The proposed bill would severely injure families, people with disabilities and everyone else who is brave enough to confront housing discrimination.”

Hilary Mason King, Executive Director, Housing Research & Advocacy Center, 216-361-9240

“This bill takes Ohio back in the wrong direction. It removes critical disincentives for landlords who would discriminate against people with disabilities, families with children, people of color or veterans. It will deny the state federal funding to investigate discrimination complaints and lets discriminators go untouched.”

Bill Faith, Executive Director, Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), 614-579-6108

“SB 349 is a direct attack on civil rights laws in Ohio and in retaliation of those who fight for equal housing.”

Patricia Kidd, Esq., Executive Director, Fair Housing Resource Center (FHRC), 440-392-0147