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Battle of the Baths (1949)

(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast #24, released on January 22, 2024.)

On January 22, 1949, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Scott filed an unusual complaint with Cincinnati Area Rent Director Stephen Young. They claimed that they were being evicted because they refused to sign a contract that limited them to one bath per week.

The whole ordeal began the previous August when their landlady, Mrs. William Griffin, received permission from Mr. Young to increase the rent on the apartment in question from $25 to $29 per month (from $312 to $377 per month today). Young only agreed to this increase because Mrs. Griffin had installed an electric hot water heater in the building, which was located in Kenton County, Kentucky, which is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

This all happened a couple of months before the Scotts and their 17-year-old daughter Pat leased that first-floor apartment. The Griffins and their three children lived in a separate apartment on the same floor and shared the bathroom with the Scotts.

For the first couple of months, everything seemed to be going well. Then, when Mr. Scott attempted to pay the rent in mid-December, Mrs. Griffin told him that he needed to sign the bath contract. The Scotts refused, so Mrs. Griffin wouldn’t accept their rent money.

“She wanted us to limit ourselves to one tub a week, and the members of the family to use the tub on different nights,” Mrs. Scott said. “And she didn’t want us to have overnight guests or parties.”

Mrs. Griffin later explained, “I said no parties that disturb other tenants—there’s quite a difference!”

Since the Scotts had refused to sign that contract, Mrs. Griffin padlocked the bathroom door and turned off the water. She informed the Scotts that they would have to use outdoor facilities.

Of course, this also meant that the Griffins were unable to use the bathroom, but that didn’t phase them in the least. Mr. Griffin was able to shower at work, their three children were bathed in a small tub, and Mrs. Griffin opted to bathe once a week, taking sponge baths during the interim.

According to Mrs. Griffin, the reason for her unusual bath contract was the high cost of the hot water. Health authorities told her that the two cisterns on her property were contaminated, so she had no choice but to haul the water in. She estimated that the cost to do so was about $6 per month, plus an additional $4 to heat it. (A total of approximately $128/month today.)

The Scotts offered to pay for their portion of the water that was hauled in, but Mrs. Griffin insisted that the cost of heating it was the real problem. She noted that her tenants were taking a total of eight baths per week, which was the rationale for the contract limiting the number of baths they could take.

And since the Scotts refused to sign that contract and had not paid their rent, Mrs. Griffin hired a lawyer to start the eviction process.

The Scotts, in turn, also hired an attorney and that’s how it ended up before rent control attorney Young. After reviewing their case, he informed Mrs. Griffin that she would need to lower the rent by $2 per month because she had failed to provide the Scotts with hot water.

But Mrs. Griffin still wished to evict the Scotts, which required a series of hearings. The case was ultimately decided by Magistrate Sue Lakeman, who ruled against the Scotts. It wasn’t so much that she was siding with Mrs. Griffin, but that the Scotts didn’t put up a defense, so she had no choice but to evict them.

The eviction paperwork was finalized on March 8, 1949, and Mrs. Griffin didn’t waste any time in kicking the Scotts to the curb. Within hours, all of their furniture was piled alongside the road, awaiting pickup by a moving truck. The Scotts said that they were moving in with some relatives in Newport, Kentucky.

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