Lawmakers continue fight over landlord-tenant legislation

Indiana lawmakers are continuing to fight over legislation that would prevent municipalities from regulating landlord-tenant relationships.

The Indiana House on Monday voted 62-31 to approve Senate Bill 340, which largely addresses condemnation and property owner rights but also was amended to include a controversial provision to preempt local ordinances that deal with landlord-tenant rights.

The city of Indianapolis, which just approved ordinances designed to protect tenants from predatory landlords, says the legislation would nullify its measures.

The bill headed back to the Senate, where the landlord-tenant language was switched from SB 340 to SB 148 on Thursday morning. The wording also was changed to make the legislation take effect immediately instead of July 1—a change that would affect the Indianapolis ordinance even sooner than expected.

During a conference committee hearing on SB 148, which deals with zoning and manufactured homes, Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, initially said he was not taking any public testimony. But that upset Democrats in the hearing.

“The Senate never heard any of this language,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said. “This is a major change in language, and a major change in home rule.”

State Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, also pushed for public testimony, especially because some of the landlord-tenant language had changed.

Doriot said he would switch the wording to mirror what was added to SB 340 in the House Judiciary Committee and allowed a little less than 20 minutes of public testimony, enough time for one representative from each side of the issue.

Brian Spaulding, vice president of government affairs at the Indiana Apartment Association, spoke in favor of the state provision. The apartment association expressed opposition to the Indianapolis ordinances earlier this year.

“We need regulations statewide that are predictable,” Spaulding said.

Lindsey Moss, chief government affairs officer and legislative counsel for Accelerating Indiana Municipalities (formerly known as the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns), spoke against the measure.

“We think it’s appropriate for these decisions to be made on a local level,” Moss said.

Moss said in addition to nullifying the Indianapolis ordinances, municipalities like Bloomington and West Lafayette are concerned the legislation wouldn’t allow local rental inspection programs, and it could raise questions about rental registries.

One of the Indianapolis ordinances allocates $250,000 of funding toward initiatives that aim to help tenants understand their rights and responsibilities in renting, including launching a tenant information hotline and creating the Tenant Legal Assistance Project, which will provide tenants with pro bono legal representation for claims against bad actor landlords. Some of the funding would go  toward the Indiana Legal Services’ Eviction Avoidance Project.

Another 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 the tenants 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.

Both the ordinances would be preempted by the state legislation, should it pass into law.

The city had hoped some of its programs would be in place before the state law took effect, which is typically July 1, but the language discussed Thursday morning would make the law take effect immediately.

Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, told IBJ after the hearing that she was disappointed in the lack of adequate public testimony and last-minute changes made to the language.

A group of nearly 300 opponents of the measure sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray and other members of the Senate on Wednesday outlining their concerns.

Nelson said she’s worried lawmakers aren’t fully considering the potential impact of the legislation.

“This isn’t a bill that just impacts Indianapolis, which was apparently it’s focus,” Nelson said. “It’s a bill that’s going to have statewide impact. It’s going to completely rewrite landlord-tenant law.”

Shackleford questioned whether Spaulding or Doriot knew how many local ordinances this language could effect, but neither had an answer.

Spaulding said the only community he knew that would definitely be affected was Indianapolis.

The legislative session is expected to end by March 11, so any compromise on the wording would have to be reached before then.

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3 thoughts on “Lawmakers continue fight over landlord-tenant legislation

  1. Indiana Republicans are against cities managing themselves, pulling a switcheroo on bills at the last minute, and refusing to host public testimony. This is un-democratic.

  2. Let me provide a situation that we wish could have had simple recourse to a Landlord. We were good tenants in a Hamilton County Apartment Community. Perfectly happy there. Great Apartment. Time came for renewal of our lease (90 days prior to expiration. Were requested to meet with Landlord’s Mgr. Did so. Were informed that their policy had changed and instead of remodeling when a tenant vacated they were going to do remodeling while we lived there. We are elderly people and wife is partially blind and major vision impairment. Could not drive to escape workmen and need to vacate while under construction. Wife also has COPD and unable to be around dust. We informed Landlords Mgr of these issues. Also wife could not lift or clean out cabinetry, move any items needing to be relocated during construction, Landlord was going to tear out complete kitchen, no cooking facilities, no pantry storage , nor refrigeration in Kitchen. Both Bathrooms were to be completely remodeled and fireplace was to be refaced. Further wife was scheduled for major surgery withing 20 days of meeting. Could not accommodate in anyway. We were informed conditions were such that no accommodations available to pay for relocation while under construction. Landlord said non-negotiable if we wanted to renew. No choice but to try and re-locate withing 90 days. Very short time to locate something & move. Fortunately we found another unit of same size and same floor plan in another section which were units owned by individuals (condo’s) and were forced to move. Cost for moving was prohibitive, but had to suck it up and move and incur substantial costs due to installing new toilets (which we had done in existing unit for our needs) and multiple other costs for additional shelving etc. Additional Security deposits.plus moving expenses , plus additions needed to accommodate new occupancy. Definitely needs to be protection for this type of Tenant abuse. (found later landlord had signed a contract to do all units within one year to save money. Also were raising rent 12-14%. Created many hardships for elderly tenants with refusal to work something out . Wife had to delay major surgery 2 additional times due to this major interruption.

    1. That’s precisely the kind of abuse that goes on in this city — I soent 10,000$ trying to enforce my tenant’s rights through an attorney and couldn’t afford to continue. No need to tell my story other than it was the craziest ordeal involving a wealthy widowed landlady and two con men… and myself my very large rental home for which I prepaid each years rent at renewal time.

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