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Tenant advocates to staff some Marion County small-claims courts as moratorium ends

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — About 16% of renters in Marion County are at least $3,000 behind on their rent payments, says Vop Osili, president of the Indianapolis City-County Council.

Osili says 145,000 people in Marion County face eviction Saturday when a federal moratorium begun during the coronavirus pandemic expires.

To help renters facing eviction navigate the Marion County court system, the Indianapolis government has partnered with three community legal-service organizations. They will staff six of the nine township small-claims courts with tenant advocates starting Monday. Not every small claim court in Marion County will have access to these services, but Mayor Joe Hogsett said the city government will provide funding for at least a year.  

Hogsett says that “in some cases, they are a lifesaving escape from homelessness or escape from an abusive property owner.”  

Judge Kimberly Bacon of the Lawrence Township Small Claims Court says that 80% of the landlords and 3% of tenants generally have some legal representation. “Because we are looking at people that may have job loss, they cannot afford representation or have no idea who to contact for that assistance. Again this program allows for that,” she said.  

Her court is one of two township small-claims courts staffed with a tenant advocate. The judge said, “This program will encourage and promote landlords and tenants to have communication and to make sure that we can create soft landings for people that do have to move.”

Indianapolis government is using $900,000 of its American Rescue Plan cash to fund the program.

The city government already has poured more than $50 million into pandemic rent assistance. The mayor said that money has kept 24,000 Indianapolis households from being evicted. Eviction filings in the Marion County courts have dropped more than 50% since the beginning of the pandemic. The courts have allowed some emergency evictions, but wholesale evictions due to missed rent payments have been put on hold for almost a year.  

Any Marion County tenant who believes their legal rights may have been violated or who is facing eviction can access the Tenant Information Hotline at 317-327-2228 from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. on business days, officials said.