Login | April 23, 2019

Columbus landlord not authorized to file eviction cases

Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: October 29, 2018

A Columbus landlord and property manager engaged in the unauthorized practice of law while seeking to evict tenants and obtain money owed to trusts, businesses, and individuals, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently.

The Supreme Court accepted a consent decree between John Ross and the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA), which complained to the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law about Ross’ legal actions. In Ohio, non-attorneys cannot represent other property owners, or even the businesses they own, when evicting tenants or seeking unpaid rent and bills in court proceedings.

In a per curiam opinion, the Court stated that Ross filed 171 complaints in courts, each constituting a separate occurrence of the unauthorized practice of law, between January 2013 and May 2015. He stopped the practice once he received a letter from the OSBA notifying him of the allegations.

The Court fined Ross $2,500 and required that he take no action to collect any financial judgment he received. The opinion noted that Ross has not attempted to collect any of the money judgments.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Mary DeGenaro joined the opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

Property Manager Connected to Ownership

Ross acted as a property manager on behalf of trusts and limited liability companies (LLCs), in which he had significant legal or financial interests. He also managed property in which he did not have a stake in the real estate. As the property manager, Ross stated that he thought he was acting within his legal rights by filing the eviction cases.

Ross indicated that most of the trustees of the trusts were family members, and that he did not charge a fee for the work. He did not advertise or offer his service to the public, and did not hold himself out to be an attorney.

Conduct Violates Rules

The opinion noted that R.C. 4705.01 provides that a person who is “not a party concerned” with a case cannot commence, conduct, or defend any action or proceeding “unless the person has been admitted to the bar by order of the Supreme Court in compliance with its prescribed and published rules.” The unauthorized practice of law is rendering legal services for another without being admitted to practice law.

Citing several prior Court opinions, the justices noted that non-attorneys cannot file eviction cases, known as “forcible entry and detainer,” or file complaints seeking to recover unpaid rent and other money damages on behalf of a property owner. Non-attorneys also cannot represent trusts or LLCs in legal matters.

The opinion noted that once Ross was informed he was not authorized to file the complaints as a representative of the entities or individuals, he stopped taking action on the matters.

The Court not only prevented Ross from collecting on any judgment he won, but also required that he file the necessary motions and notices to vacate and dismiss all pending cases regarding money judgments. He also agreed to pay a $2,500 fine.

The Court noted that none of the real-estate-owning entities Ross represented were harmed by his representation and that most of the tenants in the cases were evicted. Several of the money claims made in those cases were dismissed either by agreement among the parties or Ross’ failure to pursue the money.

The case is cited 2018-0782. Ohio State Bar Assn. v. Ross, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4247.