Housing bills drawing outside attention but no committee hearings

A bill has been introduced in the Indiana House that resurrects language Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed last legislative session and housing rights group say would put more Hoosiers at risk of eviction.

House Bill 1541, authored by Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver, contains the controversial provisions governing the landlord-tenant relationship that were amended into Senate Enrolled Act 148 in the final days of the 2020 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Holcomb vetoed the measure last March, saying it was inappropriate as the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing families to stay at home.

Manning’s bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee but a hearing has not been scheduled.

Under HB 1541, county and municipal governments would be prohibited from regulating certain aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship including the screening process of potential tenants, leasing terms and conditions, and fees charged by the landlord.

In addition, while landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants, the bill adds provisions under which a property owner could evict or increase the rent in the middle of the lease. Moreover, local governments would not adopt or enforce any regulations concerning retaliatory actions taken by landlords.

The language that ended up in SEA 148 initially appeared during the 2020 session just as Indianapolis passed an ordinance protecting the rights of tenants.

Housing advocates urged legislators as the 2021 General Assembly session began to reject any attempts at a veto override. They argue the language favors landlords and would expand Indiana’s housing crisis by increasing evictions.

The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana is opposed to HB 1541.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown all of us how critical housing is to each Hoosier’s life. The 2021 Indiana General Assembly needs to address the numerous housing inequities that have been exposed,” the nonprofit said in a statement. “By taking no action, or further exacerbating these inequities, would be an extreme disappointment in this critical time.”

Manning and Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, have co-authored another housing bill, HB 1378. The measure would allow landlords to file for an emergency eviction without giving notice they are terminating the lease. Also, at an emergency hearing the court has to order the property be immediately vacated if the tenant has no contractual relationship with the landlord.

The bill has been assigned by the House Judiciary Committee but no hearing has been scheduled.

Among the housing bills the FHCCI supports this session is Senate Bill 270, authored by Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary.

The 18-page legislation contains several provisions favorable to tenants, including providing for the expungement of the eviction from the tenant’s record after five years. Also, landlords would be required to give renters 14 days to pay past due rent before terminating the lease and to give renters 14 days’ notice before filing for an eviction for certain alleged violations.

Assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.

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