by Cambria York
The city of Indianapolis recently issued their tenants rights notice, which beginning July 1, all Indianapolis landlords must provide to tenants when signing or renewing a lease.
According to city officials, the notice, which follows from legislation earlier this year, is intended to better inform tenants and provide them a means of recourse for unethical practices. The document states that tenants have the right to a “safe and livable home,” to “basic privacy,” and to protections from discrimination and retaliation for exercising the rights outlined.
Indianapolis joins Fort Wayne, South Bend, Bloomington, and other Indiana cities in passing mild protections for tenants. This comes on the heels of increased unemployment, although a pandemic should not be required to force the hands of the state government to offer the most basic protections.
There is a true housing crisis in Indiana. According to a 2016 Princeton University study, Indianapolis ranked second only to New York City in the number of annual evictions—nearly 12,000. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 71% of low income households in Indiana report severe cost burden in the form of rent and utilities prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That number has only stagnated briefly due to an executive order signed by Governor Eric Holcomb, which has extended a moratorium (but not a freeze) on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs to June 30. This was a minor concession to the working class in an otherwise uninterrupted history of supporting landlords.
This March, Gov. Holcomb vetoed Senate Enrolled Act 148, the Republican-supported bill that would have removed recently enshrined protections for tenants in various Indiana cities. Hundreds of public commentators were ignored by the Republican supermajority in the Statehouse prior to the veto, and Holcomb refrained from acting on the bill until the deadline which happened to coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” wrote Holcomb.
However, this bill was designed to directly counteract Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s tenant rights initiative that was established in February. The effort sought to protect tenants from potentially predatory and retaliatory landlords as well as educate tenants on their rights as renters in Indiana. The policies set forth by the city-county council requires Indianapolis landlords to inform their tenants of their rights and responsibilities under Indiana law, in addition to enshrining an anti-retaliation ordinance which would fine landlords for evicting tenants for notifying the public health department, or other agencies, of unlivable conditions.
The Indiana Apartment Association (IAA), a political action committee lobbying for landlords, alleged that stronger protections for tenants would be “burdensome on property owners,” “raise the cost of housing,” and “label landlords as guilty until proven innocent.” It’s telling that these big landlords so staunchly oppose these incredibly mild protections.
The Indianapolis Star also reported in February that Indiana House Republicans Tony Cook, Greg Steuerwald, Chris May, and Jerry Torr were supported by the IAA during their campaigns and all have financial interests ranging from directly owning rental properties to being involved in law firms that specialize in representing landlords. In addition, these representatives have historically advanced landlord-friendly legislation which would aim to overturn historic protections for tenants in Indianapolis.
As Indiana prepares to enter phase three of the state’s reopening plan and new cases of the novel coronavirus continue to be reported, there is no guarantee that these protections will remain in place. Tenants need consistent empowerment and protection, not a hope and prayer that the governor is on the side of workers and small businesses. Tenants must organize together and fight against slumlords, intimidation, gentrification, small business closures, and the looming threat of homelessness.
With more than 16.9% of Hoosiers filing for unemployment, and with rent and bills piling up over months, there is a potential onslaught of evictions coming in the next period. The patchwork of temporary city and state moratoriums on evictions are not enough. In a few months when these moratoriums are lifted and the rents come due, we will still not have the money to pay!
This Saturday, May 30, Hoosiers will hold a protest to demand the cancellation of rents and mortgages for tenants, homeowners, small landlords and small businesses for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initiated locally by the Free Them All Coalition and supported by ANSWER Indiana, the protest, which will adhere to social distancing protocols–starts at 2pm on Monument Circle
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