The GOP-controlled Indiana Senate has voted to override Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a controversial landlord-tenant bill.
If it becomes law, Senate Enrolled Act 148 would prevent all local governments from regulating any aspect of landlord-tenant relationships and would block tenant protections that the city of Indianapolis had put in place last spring.
The legislation passed 29-19 in the Senate and 64-32 in the House in March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state.
Holcomb vetoed it later that month, saying he thought the language was “overly broad.” It was the only bill he vetoed last year and only the second veto during his first four years in office.
“While I understand the bill was intended to create uniformity between state and local law governing the relationship between landlords and tenants, I believe this is not the right time for such language to become law,” Holcomb wrote in a letter explaining the veto.
But the Senate voted 30-17 on Monday to override Holcomb’s veto. Overriding a veto requires only a simple majority in each chamber. If the House also votes to override the veto, the law would take effect immediately.
The Senate is expected to pass a bill this year that would eliminate the language in SEA 148 that allows it to apply to “any other aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship.”
If that bill becomes law, then SEA 148 would prevent local governments from regulating the screening process a landlord uses; security deposits; lease applications; leasing terms and conditions; disclosures on the property, lease or rights and responsibilities of the parties; the rights of the parties to a lease; and any fees charged by the landlord.
Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, argued that removing the “any other aspects” language wouldn’t make a difference.
“What’s left?” Lanane said. “If you can’t regulate the leasing terms and conditions and the rights of the parties, that’s the lease… What are the other aspects?”
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said he thinks striking the “any other aspects” language would alleviate concerns that the legislation is too broad.
“Currently throughout the state you have a hodgepodge, so to speak, of landlord-tenant zoning matters,” Freeman said. “This bill seeks to clarify those and standardize those.”
Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, said she tried to talk to Holcomb about the issue, but she could only get access to a staff member. Becker, who was absent from the final days of the 2020 session and did not vote on the legislation, said the governor’s staff told her that even if the Senate passes a bill to eliminate the “any other aspects” language, he still has concerns.
“I don’t see much left that can actually be decided by local governments,” Becker said.
Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said he thinks saying the state needs uniform standards for landlord-tenant relationships is “a made up excuse.”
“Not every community looks the same,” Ford said.
In a statement on Monday, Holcomb stood by his veto decision.
“To be sure, we are still navigating through this once-in-a-century pandemic and therefore I still believe this is not the right time for that overly broad language to have become law,” Holcomb said in the statement. “While I obviously disagree with their decision to override my veto, I hope the General Assembly will take a careful look at how this new law will effect local residents and units of government.”
Housing advocates who opposed the bill last spring continue to argue that the law would negatively affect the state’s economy and overall public health. Plus, advocates say, it could create a wave of evictions during some of the coldest temperatures of the year. A group of more than 30 protesters gathered outside the Indiana Statehouse on Monday morning to urge senators not to override the veto.
“Indiana homeless programs are already at capacity due to increased homelessness, reduction in capacity as a result of COVID-19, and fewer volunteers to provide resources and facilities to individuals at risk of homelessness,” Laura Berry, executive director of Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Inc. and a member of the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, said in a written statement. “Legislators are putting the health and safety of Hoosier families at risk with SEA 148.”
Indiana Democrats have also sharply criticized the move, saying it shows Indiana Republicans have “lost their morals.”
“Indiana Republicans’ choice to override renters’ protections during the pandemic is heartless and emphasizes how drunk on power the supermajority has become,” Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in written remarks.
The Indiana Apartment Association, which opposed the Indianapolis ordinances, was the biggest supporter of the legislation, arguing that statewide regulations would provide consistency for its members.