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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Senate puts local renter protections back on chopping block

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The Indiana Senate voted Feb. 8 to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill that would have nullified recently passed renter protections in Indianapolis.

Senate Enrolled Act 148, passed last session, would have prevented local governments from regulating relationships between landlords and tenants.

Holcomb, a Republican, cited the COVID-19 pandemic when he vetoed the bill in March 2020, saying it wasn’t the right time to “uproot local protections for renters without understanding the consequences.”

The language about landlord-tenant relations was added to the bill late in the session and lists eight things local governments can’t regulate, including the “rights and responsibilities of the parties” and “any other aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship.”

Housing advocates said the language was too broad, and Republicans argued the bill would give the state uniformity in renter laws.

Last year, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed an ordinance that requires landlords to inform renters of their rights and obligations. The ordinance also includes 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.

SEA 148 would not have nullified the hotline.

City-county council President Vop Osili tweeted his disappointment about the veto override and said no level of government should “discourage or impede” renters getting information about their rights and responsibilities.

“A home isn’t just a structure you live in; it’s also about health and safety,” he tweeted. “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.”

The Senate voted 30-17 to override the veto, an act that requires a simple majority. Eight Republicans joined all Democrats to vote against the override. The House of Representatives will also require a simple majority, though not date has been set for a vote.

Housing advocacy groups knew lawmakers were considering overriding the governor’s veto but received little warning when the vote was posted on the Senate’s calendar Feb. 5.

The Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, a collective of groups, organized a protest at the Statehouse the morning of Feb. 8 to call on lawmakers to vote against the override.

“At what point do our legislators show a molecule of care for our Hoosier renters?” Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said in a statement before the vote. “Consistently, their actions show that they are only responsive to the housing industry’s many demands.”

Doris Jones, a 35-year-old single mother and renter at the protest, said her family was evicted many times as a child in Chicago, and she understands the importance of having supports in place for renters.

“We have to continue to be that voice and remind people that housing is a human right,” said Jones, who is a member of the local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “Nobody should have to be thrown out over profits, over money.”

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

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