City moves ahead with tenant rights ordinances while Legislature debates regulation

The city of Indianapolis is charging ahead with a plan to protect tenants from bad landlords despite a bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly that would limit the city’s authority on the issue. 

Mayor Joe Hogsett and City-County Council President Vop Osili, both Democrats, are scheduled to publicly sign two ordinances Wednesday afternoon that bolster tenant rights in Marion County after the Democrat-controlled council approved the ordinances Monday evening. 

The first ordinance allocates $250,000 of funding toward initiatives that aim to assist tenants in understanding their rights and responsibilities in renting, including launching a tenant information hotline; creating the Tenant Legal Assistance Project, which will provide tenants with pro bono legal representation for claims against bad actor landlords; and providing funding to Indiana Legal Services’ Eviction Avoidance Project. 

The second ordinance requires all landlords to provide tenants with a notice of their rights and responsibilities. Those who fail to do so face a fine of $500. The ordinance also prohibits landlords from evicting tenants in a retaliatory fashion if they report unsatisfactory living conditions, such as a lack of water or heat, to authorities. Landlords who violate that portion of the ordinance face a fine of $2,500. Repeat offenses could cost them up to $7,500 in fines.

But the ordinances face an uncertain future after Indiana House members on Monday amended a Senate Bill dealing with condemnation and property owner rights to negate the city’s initiative. The committee vote took place the same day councilors voted on Hogsett’s proposal. 

The Hogsett administration says the amendment was added to the bill at the last minute after lawmakers became aware of the progress their ordinances were making. 

Wednesday morning, Hogsett and his staff said they were moving forward with their plans despite the pending legislation at the Statehouse. 

The mayor’s chief of staff, Thomas Cook, told reporters the city’s policies will take effect when the ordinances are signed by the mayor Wednesday afternoon. The city hopes the various programs will be underway by the time the proposed state legislation, if passed, takes effect in July. 

Indianapolis representatives are talking with lawmakers about the bill in hopes of changing the outcome. Hogsett said if lawmakers are intent on putting laws on the book regarding the tenant-landlord relationship, he hopes they’ll first “properly assign” the matter to a summer study commission. 

The bill, as amended, prohibits local governments from regulating the tenant-landlord relationship and states that any ordinance or regulation adopted before July 1 is “void and unenforceable.”

As currently written, Senate Bill 340 would prohibit retaliatory evictions, but it doesn’t put into place any fines for landlords who violate the proposed law. It also places the burden of proof on tenants, who would be reimbursed for one month’s rent if their landlord is found in violation of the anti-retaliatory language. 

It is currently scheduled to be heard on second reading in the House on Thursday. 

Hogsett said he’s disheartened by the amendment to SB 340. The ceremonial signing of the ordinance planned for Wednesday afternoon is recognition of the work and advocacy that went into penning those ordinances, he said, which city leaders worked on for more than six months. 

“I am proud of the council and what they were able to accomplish Monday night,” he said. “The city of Indianapolis is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

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3 thoughts on “City moves ahead with tenant rights ordinances while Legislature debates regulation

  1. Wow…Just Wow…Another issue created by the Government and now another legislated remedy to fix the issue…WHERE IS THE MARION COUNTY HEALTH DEPT AND OR THE STATE BOARD OF HEALTH? Don’t they have remedies in their bag of pursuits to curtail these unsafe rentals and landlords ? Research will suggest they have at their disposal lots of rules and regulations that would stop these defects especially if they relate to health issues…

  2. We are losing our freedoms gradually day by day and this is another example. I do not like the idea of a landlord taking advantage of a tenant. I am a property owner myself and I treat people like I would like to be treated. Most landlords and property managers are the same way and if they do not take care of people, they will not be competitive and the market forces will regulate things. I also do not like when good honest people work hard and invest their capital in housing and assume that risk and then are over-regulated by bureaucrats who feel like they know better than everyone else. We have a legal system to handle this already and do not need any more laws. If the city continues on in this vein, it will end up hurting the housing market, as investors will put their money in other places and that would hurt the housing inventory and cause price increases. They need to stop and consider the effect of this legislation on people in the real world.

  3. The number of evictions in Indianapolis is what started this mess. The city council, and our Mayor are insane if they think their ordinance will fix anything. If they (the city council committee) truly studied anything for over 6 months (as stated), who exactly were they getting information from? Certainly not the landlords, certainly not the majority of the small claims courts, and they certainly did not do any homework. They can skew their numbers all they want. In the hearings, which I attended, there wasn’t even a common number the councilors, the city attorney, or commenters from the public were using for exactly where Indianapolis ranks in evictions, let alone “why” most evictions are filed. They took and used those numbers as if the majority of evictions are all the landlord’s fault, and the homeless population is due to landlords, etc.. The EvictionLab numbers they used are from 2016 (4 years ago). How about reading IU’s study from October of 2019 (5 months ago), which clearly states most evictions are due to tenants not paying rent, and the lack of affordable housing. Yes, we have a problem with slumlords and some horrible management companies, but we have just as big a problem with bad tenants who trash their homes, or don’t pay their rent as agreed. The lack of affordable housing is a city problem. Landlords have experienced in the past few years, larger then normal increases in insurance due to crime the city can’t curb, real estate taxes going up due to a double whammy for IPS (for any home within IPS), cost of materials and labor for the simplest repair, etc.. Increases is operating costs turn into higher rents…..its a business, let us not forget. If we allow the city to railroad and dictate landlord’s lease language, and in time they see it did nothing to curb evictions, or help the lack of affordable housing, whats next…….rent control? The Mayor had said in a previous statement, the ordinance is not meant to hurt the landlords who do right, but in fact, that is all it will do. Slumlords will be slumlords, bad tenants will be bad tenants, an ordinance like this is not going to change that.

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