An apartment building owner has the general right to control their building. That right must obviously include the right to prohibit disruptive or undesirable non-tenants from entering the building. That way, the owner can ensure that the building remains safe and comfortable for its tenants. All of this sounds sensible. But it’s not right, at least according to a recent decision of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Although the Ohio court ruled against the property owner, the decision also gives property owners a roadmap if they want to be able to exclude undesirable non-tenants from their property.
In the Ohio case, a person named Antonio Randolph had visited the apartment building several times. He apparently caused noise, disruption, and trouble. So the property manager banned him from coming onto the property. Randolph’s uncle lived in the building and invited Randolph to visit the uncle’s apartment. When the property manager caught wind of Randolph’s visit, the property manager arranged to have Randolph arrested for criminal trespass, because he had previously been banned from the building.
The trial court, the first court that heard the litigation, agreed that Randolph had criminally trespassed. The court relied on the proposition that the property owner and the manager had the right to protect the peace and quiet of the building by excluding disruptive people.
Randolph appealed. The appellate court reversed the trial court, concluding that Randolph’s uncle had the right to invite anyone he wanted into his apartment. That was one of the rights he acquired when he signed his lease. When the lease gave the uncle possession of the apartment, that necessarily implied the right to have guests of his choosing. Those guests also had the right to go across common areas of the building (lobby, hallways, lawns, etc.) to get to the uncle’s apartment. Once the property owner had leased the apartment to the uncle, the property owner lost the general right to exclude people that the uncle might want to invite to the apartment, because the uncle now got to make those decisions. And if the uncle invited disruptive or otherwise unsavory people, the property owner should try to evict the uncle rather than assert a king-like power to exclude.
That wasn’t the end of the litigation. As the third layer of litigation, the property owner took the case to the Ohio Supreme Court, which essentially agreed with the decision of the appellate court. As a result, Randolph could not be guilty of criminal trespass, because he had the right, through his uncle, to enter the property.
The second and third courts reached their conclusions based on general principles of Ohio law. But they also noted that when the property owner wrote the apartment lease, the owner could have included language allowing the owner to exclude the tenant’s undesirable guests. The courts would apparently have enforced such language, if it existed, but it didn’t exist.
Ohio property owners, and probably those in the 49 other states, should make sure their leases give them the power to exclude undesirable guests. Without such language, the owners don’t have that power.
This all probably makes sense. It also demonstrates why leases and other legal documents only get longer as time goes on. Today’s gap in a document leads to tomorrow’s new paragraph of language. And then the process repeats itself with the next gap.