Ruling Jolts Rent Strikers; Final Court Order Awaited

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Money collected through Ohio's largest-ever rent strike will be released to owners of a trailer park, a magistrate has decided.

But Berea Municipal Court Magistrate Robert Lazzaro might not have the last word.

Lawyers for residents of the over-55 community known as Columbia Park have until Feb. 19 to file objections to Lazzaro's ruling that he made Friday. Berea Municipal Judge Mark Comstock then will issue the final order.

"This is not, by any means, the end of the story," said David Witt, who represents the residents.

Last September, Columbia Park's owners raised rents by an average of 18 percent. Since then, up to 800 households have participated in the rent strike, depositing rent with the court.

The case between the residents, who own their homes but rent the land, and the park owners went to trial last month.

"These folks had certain assurances given to them that they would be physically and financially secure," Witt said.

Lazzaro said in his decision that Columbia Park's new rents are still below average and declared they are "not unconscionable as a matter of law."

Jonathan Greenberg, who represents the park owners, said he believed all along that the increase was proper.

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