Editorial: State should let cities set rules for landlord/tenant relations

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

There’s little that irritates members of the Indiana General Assembly more than when Congress or federal agencies tell states what to do.

Through the years, state lawmakers have said over and over that they know best the needs of Hoosiers, that they don’t need Washington, D.C., dictating what happens in the heartland.

But Indiana lawmakers have consistently failed to adopt that approach when dealing with local governments. They routinely pre-empt local decision making. They tell city and county councils what ordinances they can and can’t pass—and sometimes even apply those restrictions retroactively.

The latest example is a bill that would essentially remove a city’s ability to regulate landlord-tenant relations. The Indiana House Judiciary Committee voted to put the language into an existing bill on Monday, just hours before the Indianapolis City-County Council was slated to vote on a hefty tenants-rights ordinance.

The new language prohibits local governments from regulating landlord-tenant relations without state authorization.

The city of Indianapolis says the amendment would nullify its efforts to protect tenants from predatory landlords, and in a statement, Mayor Joe Hogsett said he is “deeply disheartened” by the move. “Stunningly, this amendment goes so far as to ban cities and towns from notifying tenants of their existing rights under the law,” Hogsett said.

The mayor is right to be frustrated. The city spent time studying local landlord/tenant issues before presenting a tenant-protection initiative, which in part aims to cut down on evictions in Indianapolis. The initiative doesn’t prohibit landlords from evicting tenants, but it does levy fines against landlords who evict tenants in a retaliatory fashion—should they report unsatisfactory living conditions to authorities, for example.

We are not wholeheartedly endorsing the city’s proposal. What we do endorse is local officials’ ability to make decisions that best suit the particular circumstances a community faces—decisions that are made by people who are elected by those who are impacted.

Rules about evictions and landlord/tenant relations seem like especially important decisions to be made locally. After all, the landlord-tenant rules that work in Bloomington or West Lafayette—communities that are packed with rental housing for students—might be less appropriate for suburban communities or urban centers.

Additionally, allowing locals to set their own rules or try new things creates a sort of pilot program for the rest of the state.

Indiana’s statewide smoking ban (it now seems ludicrous that people could once smoke in restaurants) can be traced back to the efforts of local communities, which first sought to prohibit smoking in public places. The Legislature did initially try to stop those bans—and still have some pre-emptions of local smoking rules in place—before passing its own restrictions.

Let’s let local officials decide how best to regulate their own communities. We know there will be exceptions—when, for example, a patchwork of local rules is too onerous to be practical—but landlord-tenant relations should not be one of them.•


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One thought on “Editorial: State should let cities set rules for landlord/tenant relations

  1. Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy between Indiana lawmakers’ frustration with Federal overreach and their own overreach into municipal governance.