Indiana News

Indiana lawmakers override 2020 veto, block cities from regulating landlord-tenant disputes

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — News 8’s David Williams reports lawmakers in the Indiana House have voted to override a 2020 veto by Gov. Eric Holcomb, making the measure into law.

Senate Bill 148 from the 2020 General Assembly would prevent individual cities from taking action on landlord and tenant matters, including expedited evictions and regulating rental properties.

In 2020, the state Senate voted 29-19 in favor of a House-Senate agreement on the bill, which the House later approved 64-32, before the legislative session adjourned March 12. Both the House and Senate had Republican supermajorities, both in 2020 and again in 2021. The Republican governor vetoed the measure on March 25, citing the emerging coronavirus pandemic as one concern.

The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana opposed the veto override.

“SEA 148 certainly lays out parameters. It says that localities cannot have any control or oversight over things like how a landlord sets up their lease, how much they charge on rent, deposits, what time of screening requirements there are. Those are all specifically defined. But it also has a catch-all where it says in any other aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship. So where questions have been raised is does that include things like code enforcement? Does that include things like human rights or human relations ordinances and other items such as that? We don’t know the extent that this ordinance will impact our renters. We certainly know that based upon what we’re seeing in Indianapolis, is that tenants needed more fairness.” Amy Nelson the Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana explained Wednesday. “We do not want the veto to be overridden. We think there are some things the localities need to be in charge of. Many times my organization is pushing for statewide efforts and rules for organizations. In this case what a Seymour, Indiana may need for their unique housing needs, may be different than in Indianapolis or Ft. Wayne. Because of that we do advocate for those localities to be able to have options in their toolkit that they can use to ensure fairness for landlords and fairness for tenants as well. SEA 148 in our opinion, takes that away. Even in the last few days, we have seen attempts to make some amendments that would add in just some additional protections for tenants and all those amendments have been shut down.”

Indianapolis City-County Council and Mayor Joe Hogsett in late February 2020 approved the Tenants Bill of Rights. The measure requires landlords to give tenants notice of their rights and responsibilities. The measure also calls for tenants to be connected to legal assistance where necessary to vindicate their rights and avoid eviction. Landlords are also restricted from retaliation against tenants for exercising their rights. In addition, the city law prohibits discrimination against applicants for housing based on expunged or sealed criminal convictions.

A spokesperson for the Indiana House of Representatives told News 8 that the bill now becomes law.

Statement

“During one of the most difficult times in our city’s history, local programming has allowed us to communicate with thousands of renters about their rights, help hundreds of tenants navigate the complicated legal system, and provide actionable steps for holding bad actor landlords accountable for taking retaliatory actions against some of our community’s most vulnerable residents. It’s disappointing to have Governor Holcomb’s veto overridden today, but we are committed to continued conversations with members of the General Assembly and the ongoing funding of the City’s Eviction Avoidance Program and Tenant Legal Assistance Project.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat

“In the midst of a pandemic, where the main strategy for prevention is to quarantine and isolate, stable housing is key. That is why Governor Holcomb, the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the President issued various eviction and foreclosure moratoriums throughout this past year. Somehow, the Republican caucuses of the General Assembly do not seem to understand this issue.

“It is unconscionable that Republicans would attack tenant protections while Indiana is staring down an eviction crisis. Up to 313,000 households, with 720,000 Hoosiers, are at risk of losing their homes. With this override, we won’t be surprised when those numbers, and that of Indiana’s COVID-19 cases, rise drastically.

“Republicans seem relentless in their drive to strip local governments – particularly that of the city of Indianapolis – of their authority in these matters. The General Assembly is not and cannot be the end-all, be-all power in Indiana. We have 92 individual counties across our great state that experience unique issues. Tenants in Indianapolis may not face the same challenges as tenants in Jeffersonville or even those in Gary. We must respect our partners in local government and allow them to handle their cities, towns and counties in whatever way works best for them.

“We tried to stop it in the Senate. We tried to stop it in the House. The IBLC (Indiana Black Legislative Caucus) will fight to restore the rights and protections of all Hoosier tenants.”

State Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat from Indianapolis; chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus

“It is clear from today’s vote that the Indiana General Assembly and leaders in Indianapolis, Bloomington and other cities around our state absolutely agree on one thing: we all want to send a message to tenants about what their rights are.

“The difference is in what message we intend to send. In one instance, local leaders want to send a message in the form of a single sheet of paper that helps tenants better understand their options if they find themselves in the rare situation of having a landlord that isn’t following the law. On the other, it is an acceptance of untenable current circumstances that leave too many tenants without protection.

“Today, I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto because I believe that our responsibility should be to the public health and safety of families, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

State Rep. Blake Johnson, a Democrat from Indianapolis

“Today’s vote to override Governor Holcomb’s veto of Senate Bill 148 unfortunately strips a much-needed resource from tens of thousands of Marion County families struggling to avoid eviction as our community navigates the economic impact of COVID-19. Over the past year, the Council has voted to provide $33.5M of support to local landlords in the form of CARES Act rental assistance; in adopting the City’s Eviction Avoidance Program and Tenant Legal Assistance Project last year, our hope has been to provide a measure of support to renters as well. I believe that both tenants and landlords are best served when all parties understand their legal rights and responsibilities, and remain committed to working with all our colleagues to achieve this goal.”

Vop Osili, a Democrat who is president of the Indianapolis City-County Council

This is breaking news. Below is coverage from Feb. 8, 2021.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — On Monday, the Indiana Senate voted to override a veto last March by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The controversial 2020 measure deals with the landlord-tenant rights and how much control cities should have. The Indiana House will now consider whether to override the governor’s veto. It can also vote to override the veto or keep the veto in place before the end of the 2021 legislative session.

In 2020, the state Senate voted 29-19 in favor of a House-Senate agreement on the measure, which the House later approved 64-32, before the legislative session adjourned March 12. Both the House and Senate had Republican supermajorities, both in 2020 and again in 2021. The Republican governor vetoed the measure on March 25, citing the emerging coronavirus pandemic as one concern.

Indianapolis City-County Council and Mayor Joe Hogsett in late February 2020 approved the Tenants Bill of Rights. The measure requires landlords to give tenants notice of their rights and responsibilities. The measure also calls for tenants to be connected to legal assistance where necessary to vindicate their rights and avoid eviction. Landlords are also restricted from retaliation against tenants for exercising their rights. In addition, the city law prohibits discrimination against applicants for housing based on expunged or sealed criminal convictions.

Several Senate Democrats said aloud that they stand with and support the Republican governor’s original veto of the measure. Even some Senate Republicans voted “no” on the veto override but not enough of them.

Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Eddie Melton of Gary said, “I stand by the governor, and his decision to veto this bill.”

State Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, said, “I ask you to override the governor’s veto.”

“Nothing we’re doing here today is taking away something. (Responding to) Sen. (Shelli) Yoder, (a Democrat from Bloomington), fire alarms, smoke detectors are absolutely critical. I agree with you 100%. Nothing we’re doing here affects that. Nothing. It’s already in code,” Freeman added.

The measure would prevent cities from taking action on landlord and tenant matters including expedited evictions.

Amy Nelson, the executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said Monday, “The scariest thing about SEA (Senate Enrolled Act) 148 is that it also has language that says that basically nulls and voids at the local level, any other type of ordinance that impacts the landlord-tenant relationship. So our question is … does that mean even health and safety code violations can’t be enforced?”

State Sen. Jean Breaux, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said, “It is time to allow Indianapolis and other local communities who all have different personalities, different needs, to have the ability, the flexibility that our state government allows for them to address what is most important to their community.”

Statements

“I remain confident in my past decision to veto Senate Enrolled Act 148 last year. 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. 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.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican

“Today the Senate took up the veto of Senate Enrolled Act 148, as is mandated by our state constitution. Given that the override was successful, we intend to move follow-up legislation in Senate Bill 150, which is being authored by Sen. Jim Buck. The bill will narrow and improve the scope of the intended policy by removing the ‘any other aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship’ language. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the House to see this through the rest of the legislative process.”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Republican from Martinsville

“When Hoosiers go to the polls, they expect their vote to count. The ‘big brother’ state government should not be passing laws to overturn what local governments are successfully achieving for their communities. When state legislators step in and undo the will of people and their local officials, that is the government telling ordinary citizens that it knows better.

“When he vetoed this bill last year, Governor Holcomb spoke of how the language was too abroad and prevented local control over landlord and tenant relationships. He also recognized that a public health emergency was the absolute worst time to allow such a law to go in effect. Yet, here we are, still dealing with a pandemic, and the supermajority wants to throw renter protections right out the window.

“We all know that the language in this bill was a retaliation to Indianapolis’ locally passed renter protections. If state legislators are concerned with the local policies of cities across the state, they are more than welcome to run for city council in their towns.”

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor of Indianapolis

“This is a uniquely bad proposal that not only tramples on the rights of local government, but puts vulnerable Hoosiers at increased risk of eviction and homelessness. It’s no secret that SEA 148 was brought forward last year in response to a proposal approved by the Indianapolis city council. The city’s proposal, which strengthened landlord-tenant relations, was a decision that they felt was necessary to protect their residents. The state should not be stepping in to retaliate against local governments that make decisions on behalf of their communities.

“It’s especially shameful that the supermajority is trying to pass this proposal now, as Hoosiers continue to struggle during this pandemic. This public health crisis is not over, and voting to override a veto that protects those in vulnerable living situations is not only ill-timed, but cruel. This proposal will substantially change existing landlord-tenant law and weaken state protections for renters, who make up more than 30 percent of the state’s population. Overriding this veto while we’re already in the middle of an eviction crisis is wrong.”

Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Eddie Melton of Gary

“When the Indianapolis City-County Council passed Proposals 40 and 41 early last year, Indianapolis already had one of the highest eviction rates in the country. Now, estimates indicate that as many as 250,000 households in Indiana are behind on rent and at risk of eviction when the current federal moratorium expires in less than two months – which could represent as many as 50,000 families facing impending crisis here in Marion County.

“Over the last year, the City of Indianapolis has taken direct action to help tenants – and landlords – survive the pandemic. To date, the city has distributed more than $33.5 million in rental assistance, helping to ensure nearly 16,000 families weren’t falling further behind in unpaid rent. And while many lawmakers expressed concerns that the City’s landlord/tenant program would unfairly target landlords and create undue bureaucracy or frivolous legal actions, the data from the last seven months proves otherwise. Since July 1, when the ordinance took effect, hundreds of individuals have called the City’s Tenant Information Hotline and received assistance through the Eviction Avoidance Program and Tenant Legal Assistance Project, but only six retaliatory actions have been referred to the City prosecutor.

“At a time in which Hoosier families are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, it is incredibly disappointing to see action taken to roll back common-sense protections that help Indianapolis residents navigate the complicated legal system and provide recourse for tenants experiencing retaliatory actions by bad-actor landlords. It is my hope that we can continue to have productive conversations with members of the Indiana legislature and identify solutions that help to protect renters from predatory landlords.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat

“I am deeply disappointed in today’s vote by the Indiana Senate to void the Indianapolis City-County Council’s decision to provide local tenants full and ready access to accurate information about their legal rights and the support necessary to assert them. I continue to believe that no government, whether local, state, or otherwise, should adopt measures that discourage or impede dissemination of accurate information to its citizens about their rights and responsibilities under the law. Educating Marion County renters about what they legally can and cannot do benefits landlords and tenants alike.

“Important as these protections are, the Council and Mayor Hogsett’s administration have not sought to protect tenants at the expense of Indianapolis landlords. Since the Council’s vote to adopt Proposals 40 & 41 last year, we have also voted multiple times to allocate more than $33.5 million in CARES Act funding to a rental assistance program that provides direct payments to Marion County landlords whose tenants have been financially impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As I said after the Council’s vote to adopt Proposals 40 & 41, the vast majority of Indianapolis landlords conduct their business fairly and have nothing to fear from better education of renters.  

“The Council’s overwhelming concern now is for the tens of thousands of Marion County families who may face eviction in 2021 due to the devastating impact of the global pandemic. A home isn’t just a structure you live in; it’s also about health and safety. That this is occurring during a pandemic creates unnecessary stress for a community enduring too much. We will continue our efforts to work with our colleagues at state and local levels to protect our county’s renters from a small number of predatory landlords.”

Vop Osili, a Democrat who is president of the Indianapolis City-County Council

“Indiana Republicans’ choice to override renters’ protections during the pandemic is heartless and emphasizes how drunk on power the supermajority has become. If successful, this override would evict families from their homes and would demolish the trust voters place in their elected officials to create better opportunities in the future. The INGOP have completely lost their morals.”

Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party

“Hoosiers who rent deserve safe living conditions protected at every level of government. Today, Senate Republicans called SEA 148 from the 2020 legislative session to a vote to override the governor’s veto. Today’s effort to override the governor’s veto is another example of state government overreach negatively impacting those most vulnerable. I agree with Governor Holcomb that this legislation is too broad and has been presented at the wrong time for Hoosier families.

“Over 700,000 Hoosiers could be at risk of eviction after this override in what some experts worry could be ‘the most severe housing crisis in United States history.’ The impact of an eviction on families and individuals is devastating. Following eviction, a person’s likelihood of experiencing homelessness increases, mental and physical health are diminished, and the probability of obtaining employment declines. Families who are evicted regularly lose their possessions, lose their jobs, and experience higher rates of depression. This puts families into a cycle of poverty hard to escape if they have to constantly come up with the resources for more furniture and more security deposits. If they are missing work to look for housing, to find new child care or because they lost access to transportation when they lost their home – evicted families lose even more access to financial stability. For children, the instability caused by eviction can result in worse outcomes in education, health and future earnings. Instability, like eviction, is particularly damaging to children, who suffer in ways that impact their educational development and well-being for years.”

State Sen. Shelli Yoder, a Democrat from Bloomington

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK

MORE STORIES