Indianapolis renter ordered to leave apartment despite eviction moratorium

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Nancy Plake was ready for her court hearing early Friday morning.

The south side resident had her face mask, comfortable shoes and documentation showing she qualified for protection under the federal eviction moratorium.

She stood in line at the Perry Township courthouse and waited in her car for more than an hour before facing a small claims court judge.

“I’m horrified to go into this court today,” Plake told News 8 as she approached the front of the line.

Behind her were other Indianapolis renters fighting to stay in their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several people facing eviction filings planned to present the same claim as Plake. They believed the cases against them should be halted because they were covered by the moratorium.

The order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took effect Sept. 4 but does not guarantee protection to all tenants struggling to pay rent.

Covered renters must provide a signed declaration stating they meet the order’s five requirements:

  • their income does not exceed $99,000
  • they used “best efforts” to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing
  • they used “best efforts” to make timely partial payments 
  • they would likely become homeless or be forced into shared living quarters if evicted
  • they are unable to pay full rent due to income loss or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses

Plake was initially confident she qualified for protection, and submitted her declaration to the court and her apartment’s leasing office.

She was hopeful the case against her would be halted, allowing her to stay in the apartment she shared with her two adult children, who both have special needs.

Her confidence faltered as she waited to see the judge. She started thinking about where her family would sleep if her argument didn’t hold up in court. Plake said their only option was “in the car in the parking lot.” 

Even if the judge agreed she was covered by the moratorium, it would only protect her until the end of the year. Plake worried she and her children would “freeze to death in the car” in January.

She tried to focus on the facts of her case. She met the federal order’s income requirement; she applied to the Indianapolis Rental Assistance Program and was placed on a waitlist behind 17,000 other applications; she said she tried her best to make rent after she was laid off from her delivery driver job in March; and she would be forced into homelessness or shared living quarters if evicted, upping her family’s risk of coronavirus exposure.

The CDC issued its halt on evictions to protect renters like Plake and prevent the pandemic from worsening.

“Housing stability helps protect public health because homelessness increases the likelihood of individuals moving into congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, which then puts individuals at higher risk to COVID-19,” the order states. “Unsheltered homelessness also increases the risk that individuals will experience severe illness from COVID-19.”

A group of tenant advocates stood outside the Perry Township courthouse, holding signs that read “END EVICTIONS” and “NO COVID EVICTIONS,” as Plake waited for her case to be called.

Finally, it was her turn.

The judge gave Plake four weeks to find a new home. She thought she would be protected from nonpayment eviction but overlooked the fact that her apartment lease had also ended. 

The moratorium does not cover non-renewal of leases, according to the court.

Plake was ordered to vacate her apartment by midnight on Oct. 8. 

“It’s just wrong,” she said.