The pressure's off for dozens of University of Toledo students who thought they had just a day to find a new place to live.
Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell yesterday sided with students over their landlord, University Properties, which had told students without leases Tuesday they had to leave their homes in Byrne Hill Estates.
"It is the order of this court that the defendants cease and desist any and all eviction proceedings against any students currently occupying the 15 properties who did not sign a lease," Judge McConnell ruled.
The judge further ordered that the leases are voidable, and he gave students the following options: They legally have 90 days to renegotiate new leases at Byrne Hill or 90 days to find a new place to live.
The judge, who cited student witness testimony from earlier this week, additionally found the landlords, Larry and Rick Ross, in contempt of court, saying they were working a "sham procedure" in which they required just three students to sign a lease but told more students they could live there.
That violated a city ordinance that allows for no more than three unrelated people to live together in a single-family residence and follows a several-year court battle involving the Ross rentals at Byrne Hill.
The three students who attended yesterday's court hearing said they were thrilled by the judge's decision. They planned to take the news back to the others living in the neighborhood, who include UT athletes.
"This actually makes it easier for us," said Carmen Guidera, 21.
Ms. Guidera said she and her roommates had been working with attorneys to break their lease with University Properties in light of the notice this week and other issues they were having living there. She said four of them were looking for a new place to live, preferably at side-by-side townhouses.
She expects many other students would leave based purely on the fact that three people would have to pay rent of about $1,200 or more monthly.
"If students don't leave, they'll be stuck with three people and a huge bill," she said.
After the hearing, Larry Ross denied telling more students they could live in the homes, adding that tenants do things behind their landlords' backs.
Mr. Ross said he was unsure of their future in the business. "It's not worth it. I don't know what we're going to do from here on out," he said.
The Rosses have been ordered to reappear in Judge McConnell's courtroom Jan. 10 to determine whether they could face possible jail time and fines as a result of yesterday's contempt ruling.
John Madigan, the city's general counsel, said that while the judge's ruling does allow for more than three students to remain in the homes temporarily, he was pleased the court has consistently upheld the ordinance.
He said city officials are actively trying to identify other houses where the violations exist. The ordinance has been supported as well by groups in neighborhoods where student-housing is prominent.
Oftentimes, city officials act on the law after fielding complaints from residents.
Mr. Madigan said he was hopeful that drawn-out court battles like the one with Byrne Hill Estates will not occur in future cases.
"I don't want to go through these two years of battles every time we find a house," he said.
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