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Sen. Brown warns of harmful practices by out-of-state landlords

 Senator Sherrod Brown speaks at the Senate Finance Committee hearing.
Kristin Stratman
/
WYSO
Senator Sherrod Brown speaks at the Senate Finance Committee hearing

On Wednesday, Brown specifically called out VineBrook Homes. It owns about 27,000 single-family homes in 20 different states. In Ohio, they have apartments in Columbus, Dayton and over 3,000 units in Cincinnati.

Brown said renters have complained directly to his office about the issues they’re encountering with VineBrook. He brought up one renter in Cincinnati who reached out to VineBrook about her broken heater but received no response from the company, leaving her without heat during the winter.

“Owners provide a decent place to live in exchange for collecting people’s money in rent each month. But if your building does not have working heat or isn’t being maintained, or if you’re jumping at the chance to evict tenants and set them up for surprise fees, you’re not holding up your end of the deal,” Brown said.

Brown brought Jordan Cotleur, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, to talk about VineBrook on Wednesday.

“VineBrook operates their entire portfolio’s automated online rental portal with little to no human support,” Cotleur said. “They regularly raise rents without notice and charge unlawful fees through the online portal, but provide no meaningful way for tenants to dispute fees.”

Cotleur alleged after the surprise charges and rent increases, which are often too expensive for the tenant, they’re locked out of the online portal needed to pay fees.

She said VineBrook then evicts the residents.

“It’s no wonder that they’re the number one eviction filer in Hamilton County,” she said. “In fact, I was in eviction court this morning, and nearly the entire eviction docket was VineBrook or one of their dozens of affiliate LLCs.”

Brown said that his office is trying to figure out if there are legislative fixes they could try and implement.

“We need to find a more systematic way of pushing back,” he said.

Cotleur said that the online portal VineBrook Homes uses needs to be regulated.

“There needs to be some sort of way to manage these portfolios, to not allow [VineBrook] to lock tenants out,” she said. “There also just needs to be people on the ground to sort of check these practices.”

Last year, the City of Cincinnati sued VineBrook Homes and their associated companies for $600,000 in unpaid fines and water bills.

WYSO reached out to VineBrook Homes for comment. They did not respond by time of publication.

Sen. Brown sent a letter to VineBrook Homes on Wednesday to inquire about the allegations against them. The letter can be read here.

Garrett is a WYSO intern and graduate of University of Dayton. He spent time covering the Dayton area with WDTN Channel 2 News after the 2019 Memorial Day Tornado outbreak. It was around this time that he began listening to NPR and fell in love with radio-based journalism. Garrett graduated from UD in May of 2021 with his Bachelor’s in Communications with a focus in journalism and graduated in May of 2022 with his Master’s. While not working at WYSO, Garrett is an avid reader, loves to play video games, and hanging out with his friends.