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High court rules on landlord-tenant dispute

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Landlords must refund a security deposit and can't get money back for property damage if they don't adequately or timely notify tenants about those claims, but landlords can still recover unpaid rent and other losses, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

In a landlord-tenant dispute involving Indiana's statutes on back-rent payment and return of a security deposit, justices ruled 4-1 in favor of the landlord in Stan Klotz v. Sarah Hoyt and Chrissy Kornmann, No. 18S02-0807-CV-391.

Tenants Sarah Hoyt and Chrissy Kornmann had entered a yearlong rental agreement in July 2006, paying Stan Klotz a $600 security deposit and rent for July and half of August but made no other payments. The court shows they stopped living there sometime in August or September 2006, and the landlord sent a letter about the intent to start eviction proceedings that November because of their non-payment of rent. They didn't respond, and he filed a small claim in January 2007. Klotz presented evidence that the total amount was almost $11,919 in unpaid rent, late fees, damages, and attorney fees, but he asked the court for a judgment of $6,000 - the small claims' statutory limit.

Delaware Circuit Judge John Feick dismissed Klotz's breach-of-lease complaint in 2007, but early last year an Indiana Court of Appeals panel reversed that decision in Klotz v. Hoyt, 880 N.E.2d 1234, 1235 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008)  and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the landlord for $6,000.

Justices took the case to resolve conflicting precedent on the issue, four agreeing with the conclusion the Court of Appeals had reached. Writing for the majority, Justice Brent Dickson wrote that the court is harmonizing conflicting provisions of Indiana Code 32-31-3-12 to 16 relating to deposits and notice of damage claims.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard concurred in result but penned his own response offering thoughts on an additional legal question about small claims procedures.

"Because we do not receive very many appeals from the 300,000 small claims cases litigated each year in Indiana, I would go a bit further and answer a question posed by this appeal but not answered in the Court's opinion," he wrote, noting that a legitimate claim of a landlord or tenant shouldn't always be dictated by a required 45-day mailing deadline before a hearing.

"Our state (and most others) has always believed that such informal approaches to small claims disputes make for substantial justice to litigants on both sides of the 'versus,'" he wrote.

In his dissent, Justice Frank Sullivan wrote that the majority misreads part of the state statute.

"Simply put, if occupancy ends with a tenant owing a landlord more than the amount of the security deposit in damages ... subsection (c) expressly authorized the landlord to recover the additional amount - but only so long as the landlord has complied with [other sections]," he wrote.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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