Today, the First District Court of Appeals for Ohio unanimously (on all counts) ruled in favor of Plaintiffs Andrew White and Vena Jones-Cox that the City of Cincinnati’s charges to property owners with alarm systems are an unconstitutional tax.  That decision is linked here.  They remanded the matter back to Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz for determination of class certification, refund of illegally-collected fees, and other matters.  Judge Ghiz originally had ruled that fee was a constitutional assessment imposed by the City.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs are Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and Christopher P. Finney of the Finney Law Firm.

You may contact Christopher P. Finney (513.943.6655) for more information.

 

On Thursday, November 18, 2021, attorneys Chris Finney and Curt Hartman will teach “Using Public Records to Overcome Government Bureaucracy” to Cincinnati Lawyer’s Club.  Registration is at 11:30, lunch is at noon, and the 2-hour program starts at 1:15 PM. No reservations are required.  CLE and lunch costs $25 for members and $30 for non-members.  For more information, call Robert W. Cettel, President  513-325-2279 (cell).

Curt Hartman, in particular, is a leading attorney in Ohio on Sunshine Law, which encompasses Ohio’s Open Meetings statute and Ohio’s Public Records statute.  Ohio has some of the strongest Sunshine Laws in the nation, and Finney Law Firm has pursued dozens of cases, including ones all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, expanding the boundaries of public access to official business. The most famous of such cases was the “Gang of Five” case addressing corruption on Cincinnati City Council that significantly developed and expanded both the Open Meetings and Public Records statutes, but there have been dozens more.

Finney and Hartman will address the statutory and case law rights of the public to official business and regale the audience with important public interest victories (and losses) under those statutes.

For assistance with Ohio public records and open meeting statute matters, contact Chris Finney (513.943.6655) or Curt Hartman (513.379-2923).

Two years ago, Finney Law Firm was proud to represent African American Realtor Jerry Isham and his African American home buyer, Tony Edwards, who were accosted by seven Cincinnati Police officers, guns drawn, then handcuffed for nearly five minutes, and forcibly searched, simply for the “crime” of showing a home listed for sale (and really it was no more complicated than that).  The City of Cincinnati settled the civil claim 16 hours and 30 minutes after the suit was filed by Finney Law Firm attorneys.

Then, in August of this year, the Isham story appeared to repeat itself in Grand Rapids, Michigan with the arrest of African American Realtor Eric Brown of Keller Williams and his buyer, Roy Thorne, who were arrested simply for viewing a home listed for sale. Read about that here.

On November 13, the National Association of Realtors will feature Isham and Brown in a symposium entitled “Race & Real Estate” at its annual Realtors  Conference & Expo in San Diego, California to shine a spotlight on the extra challenges faced by African Americans in the real estate industry.

Our firm was proud to represent Jerry Isham, a top real estate professional in Cincinnati and the owner of Movement Realty, who did not deserve this shabby treatment by Cincinnati Police, in this matter.  We are pleased that his case has been given this important platform for further exploration of racism in the real estate industry.

Isham is the former President of both the Ohio and Cincinnati Realtists Associations and is currently the Region VIII Vice President of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.

Our Public Interest Law team at Finney Law Firm, including Chris Finney and Curt Hartman, pursued the public records (mostly dash cam and body cam videos) of the incident, and filed this case in federal court on behalf of Isham and Edwards.

If you are attending the National Association of Realtors’ Convention & Expo, we encourage you to attend this important session.

  • For more background on the Isham story and the work of the Finney Law Firm’s Public Interest Law team, read here and watch here. The story captivated Cincinnati television viewers and was the topic of radio talk shows for weeks.  Watch here, here, here, and here and read here and here.  It even made news internationally.  Read here. Veteran Cincinnati reporter Jennifer Edwards Baker of WXIX, Channel 19, initially broke the story. The Youtube video linked to this story analyzing in detail the Isham/Edwards arrest has had more than 5.6 million views, so the story has since captivated the nation.

 

 

Cincinnati homeowners may obtain a Community Reinvestment Area (“CRA”) tax abatement by renovating existing residential structures. This practice is common and reduces tax liability for homeowners who make such renovations. That said, recently, various homeowners with existing CRA Tax Abatements suffered a reduction in their existing CRA Tax Abatement. This issue was as new to us as it may be to you.

To preemptively clear up the foregoing issue for others, this blog post will discuss a background of the CRA Tax Abatement Program for existing residential structures, the importance of submitting the application in a timely manner, and how the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office, which has a duty to make appraisals, and can make such appraisals based on its own preferred method, calculates Tax Abatements.

Background

The CRA Tax Abatement Program is meant to stimulate revitalization, retain residents, and attract new homeowners, in the Cincinnati area. To encourage the foregoing types of behavior, the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development provides CRA Tax Abatements to certain homeowners who renovate existing residential structures (e.g., residential homes and residential condos, up to three units). To qualify for a CRA Tax Abatement, the cost of renovations must total at least $2,500.00, or $5,000.00, depending on the number of units in the residential structure. Some renovations, which might increase the marketability of a residential structure, are not contemplated in the cost of renovations (e.g., roofing, windows, gutters, vinyl siding, etc.) Likewise, unrelated improvements and tax on the land itself are not contemplated in the cost of renovations.

To apply for the CRA Tax Abatement Program, applicants will need to submit an application to the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development. Applicants who are renovating existing residential structures must pay an application fee of $250.00, which may be paid by check, to the “City of Cincinnati.” Also, applicants will need to submit evidence showing that all permits related to the renovations are closed. Applicants may obtain such evidence here. Finally, applicants will need to submit a document evidencing the costs of the renovations. Such evidence should be in the form of a notarized list indicating (i) the general categories of the work completed; (ii) the date such work was completed; and (iii) the expenses, including costs of labor, associated with each category of work completed.

Timing of the Application

Under the CRA Tax Abatement Program, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office can set a CRA Tax Abatement Period for, at most, ten years, unless homeowners comply with LEED, LBC, or HERS standards, which are not discussed herein. That said, under the CRA Tax Abatement Program, the applicant cannot apply for the abatement until renovations are complete, and the CRA Tax Abatement is not applied to the residential structure until the application has been submitted.  Despite those rules, the abatement period begins when the renovations are commenced. Furthermore, it might take the City of Cincinnati eight weeks to respond to the application. As such, an applicant should complete their renovations and apply as quickly as possible to avoid missing out on their CRA Tax Abatement period.

Calculation of the Abatement

The Hamilton County Auditor’s Office recently started calculating CRA Tax Abatements under the “Percentage Method.” Under the Percentage Method, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office determines a homeowner’s CRA Tax Abatement amount by dividing the contributed value of all the improvements, at the time construction began, by the value of the home without improvements. The purpose of the Percentage Method is to provide homeowners with a percentage that remains consistent, despite changes in home values.

Before the Percentage Method, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office calculated CRA Tax Abatements under the “Beginning Value Method.” Under the Beginning Value Method, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office determined a homeowner’s CRA Tax Abatement amount by subtracting the value of the home without improvements from the contributed value of all the improvements, at the time construction began. The Beginning Value Method created an issue where homeowners were unable to truly appreciate the value of their CRA Tax Abatement, because, when their property value increased, the value of their abatements did not, leaving them with little tax liability savings.

Due to the foregoing issue, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office reacted by creating the Percentage Method. Despite its best intentions, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office did not provide for grandfather clause for the various homeowners, with CRA Tax Abatements, who were content with their CRA Tax Abatement Valuation. This gave rise to the issue first described in this blog post, which the Finney Law Firm resolved for similarly situated homeowners. So, if you are a similarly situated homeowner and need professional guidance on how to remedy such issue, call the Finney Law Firm, today!

Today’s Canton Repository reports here on our latest lawsuit against the Stark County Board of Elections‘ planned purchase of Dominion Voting Systems voting machines. The contract was procured through illegal closed meetings — in executive sessions called for an improper purpose under Ohio law.

Finney Law Firm has a long history of successfully prosecuting cases involving violations of Ohio’s Open Meetings laws as part of our broad public interest law practice, including the notorious Gang of Five case involving members of Cincinnati City Council.

Contact Chris Finney (513.943.6655) for assistance with your Ohio Open Meetings issues.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Ohio Department of Education’s adoption of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project’s for implementation throughout Ohio’s school systems, we should all agree that an open and robust debate about that policy before public bodies is appropriate and required under the U.S. Constitution. But that’s not how the Ohio Board of Education sees things.

Once they hastily adopted the new policies, they then formally forbade speakers before them from criticizing their decision. The ODE allows public comment on all other topics, but specifically not these two.

So, last week, the Finney Law Firm filed suit against ODE challenging these restrictions on speech during the public comment section of Board meetings. Read that suit here.

The Board did not just quietly and unconstitutionally squelch in a public forum,  but they explained why they were privileged — indeed compelled — to trample on the Constitution in this instance:

  • “[O]ur board president has instituted a policy that prevents people from speaking to our group in reference to any of these issues about critical race theory, etc.…  I’m not sure why we have a filter on what we’re allowed to hear here, but we do.”
  • “I was really glad when [LAURA KOHLER] said we weren’t going to have those speeches anymore”
  • “I would just prefer that we not have a conversation about critical race theory, or 1619….”
  • “I don’t want to sit here again and listen to two months of people – they have their opinions….  This is not what I’m here for”
  • “I’m using race and I don’t feel ashamed about that”
  • That if such public comments or testimony were allowed then the meeting of the OHIO STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION “would not longer be a safe space for me”

I suppose if you are that delicate and thin-skinned, perhaps you should not sign up for the rough and tumble of public office. Just a thought.

Media coverage of this is below:

For inquiries on this story, contact Curt Hartman (513.379.2923) or Chris Finney (513.943.6655).

Today, President Joseph Biden announced immediate and significant changes to the Paycheck Protection program, as follows:

  1. Priority period for businesses with fewer than 20 employees for two weeks starting this Wednesday, February 24th.
  2. Different loan (grant) calculation for sole proprietors and a set-aside of $1 billion for businesses in low- and moderate income areas.
  3. Made eligible those with non-fraud felony convictions.
  4. Made eligible business owners with student loan defaults.
  5. Made eligible all lawful U.S. residents with visas or Green Cards.

Forbes magazine has more details on these breaking developments here.

The second round of stimulus signed by then-President Trump in December extended the Centers for Disease Control limited federal eviction moratorium (started in October) through January 31, and then immediately upon taking office, President Biden extended the stay on evictions through March 31. So, landlords of qualifying non-paying tenants continue to be legally prohibited from recovering possession of their properties.

And a related component of the second stimulus bill was a rental assistance program that allowed tenants — with federal subsidy — to continue to pay their rent, and even recoup back rental accrued, so landlords could be made whole despite the eviction prohibition.

Today’s New York Times writes on the toll the pandemic is taking on the housing industry, including landlords and tenants, which led us to update on “what is the status of the rental assistance component of the stimulus bill?”

What do we know:

  • The rental assistnce is being given from the federal government to the states, who will then each establish their criteria, and application and distribution programs. Some states will be distributing the money to counties and cities for further distribution. What this will mean is a patchwork of criteria for qualification, multiple software portals, and delays in implementation.
  • We have inquired to to roll-out dates and assistance criteria and, at least as to Ohio and Kentucky, not only are none of the application and distribution procedures known, there does not even appear to be discussions with stakeholders taking place as to how best to get the assistance to those in need.
  • Thus, we had hoped that tenants and landlords could get relief by some time in March, but that does not appear feasible. Our best bet right now is April/May, but that is just speculation.

The fact that Ohio paid out $330 million in fraudulent unemployment claims in 2020 will likely slow the process to assure that bogus rental assistance claims do not slide through.

We will attempt to keep our readers informed of developments on the moratorium and rental assistance programs as they emerge.

One of Joe Biden’s first acts as President yesterday was extending the residential eviction moratorium until March 31, 2021. Read the CDC statement on that here.

We are hearing there will be extensive changes to the moratorium processes and procedures that will tilt the scales decidedly in favor of non-paying tenants. We will keep our blog readers updated on those changes as they occur.

The CDC in its release attributes the moratorium to “a housing affordability crisis” that they now place even more so on the books and backs of landlords to resolve.