Council committee OKs Hogsett’s tenant-protection initiative

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A City-County Council committee has advanced two proposals that support Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s tenant-protections initiative, despite opposition from landlords and organizations that represent them.

The Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday night approved the proposals 7-3, with Republicans on the committee voting against them.

The first proposal appropriates $250,000 to Hogsett’s tenants’ rights initiatives, including $40,000 to launch a tenant information hotline and $210,000 to Indiana Legal Service’s Tenant Legal Assistance Project.

The second multi-pronged proposal requires landlords to give tenants notice of their rights and responsibilities; connect tenants to legal assistance where necessary to vindicate their rights and avoid eviction; protect tenants from retaliation for exercising their rights; and prohibit discrimination against applicants for housing based on expunged and sealed criminal convictions.

The proposal is bolstered by a $500 fine for landlords who fail to give tenants notice of their rights and responsibilities, and fines from $2,500 to $7,500 for landlords who retaliate against tenants who report issues with their living units to authorities.

Both proposals move to the full council for consideration.

Hogsett first announced the multi-faceted initiative last month after talking about a lack of statewide tenant protection laws during his re-election campaign last year.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett told the committee Wednesday the proposals aim to level the playing field for tenants. They targets bad-actor landlords, he said, but don’t prohibit landlords from evicting tenants who violate their leases.

The initiative, in part, aims to cut down on evictions in Indianapolis, which has the second highest number of evictions in the country, behind only New York City, according to Princeton University database evictionlabs.org.

The proposals are sponsored by Council President Vop Osili, a Democrat. Councilor John Barth, also a Democrat, has co-sponsored the measures and called them much needed, saying they were “very thoughtfully constructed given the guardrails we have to live in.”

But more than a half-dozen local landlords and organizations that represent property owners took issue with some of the proposals’ components.

Brian Spaulding of the Indiana Apartment Association asked councilors to consider narrowing the focus of the proposal to specifically target bad-actor landlords. He said landlords should be punished for evicting a tenant after reporting issues with their unit only if it can be proven the landlord knew the tenant had made calls for help.

He also said the notice of tenant rights needs to inform tenants they cannot withhold rent because they’re unhappy with their unit, that they must give notice to their landlord before ending their lease and that they must give the landlord reasonable access to the unit for inspections.

Others recommended other modifications, including mediation for tenants and landlords in an eviction fight and a longer time frame (30 days instead of 10) for landlords to provide tenants with the notice of their rights.

Others called the proposals “overreach” and said a committee that includes landlords should be convened to look at the issue.

A representative of AARP and a resident spoke in favor of the proposals.

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