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Governor vetoes landlord-tenant bill, preserving Indianapolis renter protections

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A set of renter protections passed earlier this year by the Indianapolis City-County Council will stay on the books after Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill that would have nullified some of the measures.

The governor’s veto came late in the day March 25, the last day for bills to be signed into law, vetoed or allowed to pass without a signature. It also came on the first day of a state-mandated stay-at-home order because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is fracturing whatever economic security renters had before.

Mayor Joe Hogsett, who made tenant protections one of the main priorities for his administration, thanked Holcomb in a statement.

“As we confront an unprecedented public health emergency that has cast a dark cloud of economic uncertainty over families across the state, now is not the time to uproot local protections for renters without understanding the consequences,” he said.

The protections passed by the city-county council include fines of $2,500 and $7,500 for landlords who violate anti-retaliation measures, as well as the creation of a Tenant Information Hotline to help with legal assistance and a requirement for landlords to inform renters of their rights and obligations

Senate Enrolled Act 148 included an amendment that would have nullified some of the protections, including the fine and the landlord’s obligation to tell renters what rights they have.

Holcomb wrote in a veto letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray that the COVID-19 pandemic has “dramatically” changed the circumstances in which SEA 148 passed. He also noted an executive order temporarily prohibiting evictions and foreclosures.

“While I understand the bill was intended to create uniformity between state and local laws governing the relationship between landlords and tenants, I believe this is not the right time for such language to become law,” Holcomb wrote in the letter.

Whitley Yates, who is director of diversity and engagement for the Indiana Republican Party, praised the decision in a Facebook post.

“Leadership is sometimes making choices that aren’t popular but standing by what’s right,” she wrote with a praise hands emoji. “We are in this together.”

Many groups from around the state begged lawmakers — and then Holcomb — to not move forward with the amendment, which was originally introduced by the Indiana Apartment Association and added to Senate Bill 340.

Along with loosening protections for renters in Indianapolis and other cities that have taken action on their own to guard tenants, the amendment included broad language that would have restricted cities from regulating “any other aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship.”

Jessica Fraser, director of Indiana Institute for Working Families, said in a statement she has “great appreciation” for Holcomb’s decision to veto the bill.

“Compared to renters in other states, Indiana renters are already at a significant disadvantage in terms of their rights and recourse when they encounter a bad landlord,” she said. “Because housing stability and quality are so fundamental to families’ abilities to hold down jobs, perform well in school, and maintain health, we should be looking at how balance the rights of tenants and landlords in ways that promote housing stability and reduce evictions.”

Indianapolis had 11,570 evictions in 2016, according to Eviction Lab at Princeton University. That was second only to New York City.

Four other Indiana cities ranked in the top 50 for mid-size cities.

The Recorder interviewed vulnerable renters in an October 2019 story about Black renters facing especially heavy tenant burdens in Marion County.

One of those renters was Richard Martin, who would be considered severely rent burdened because he collects $700 a month in disability but pays $600 to rent his two-bedroom home on North Dearborn Street.

The Recorder did not use Martin’s real name in order to protect him from retaliation from his landlord.

At the time of the interview, Martin’s gas and water had been shut off because he couldn’t afford the bills.

“Man, you know that ain’t ever gonna cover no utility bills,” he said of the $100 he has after paying rent. “This is a Black, poor neighborhood. It’s the ghetto.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

A 2019 IUPUI study showed Black and Latino renters spend a higher percentage of their income on rent than whites. (Photo provided)

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