Task force issues recommendations for handling increase in eviction cases

In anticipation of state courts being overwhelmed with landlord-tenant cases once the pandemic moratorium on evictions is lifted, a task force assembled by the Indiana Supreme Court released recommendations Wednesday that encourage payment plans and alternatives to forcibly removing residents from their homes.

The Landlord Tenant Task Force was created to help prepare for the expiration of eviction restrictions that were imposed in March as the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing Indiana businesses to shut down and sending many Hoosiers to the unemployment line. Landlords were prohibited from removing tenants for nonpayment during the moratorium.

Since Gov. Eric Holcomb issued the executive order, the ban on evictions has been extended to July 31. What will happen once the moratorium ends is unknown, but housing advocates and courts are worried about a flood of eviction filings and families losing their homes.

The task force was charged with providing guidance on how to prioritize eviction cases when the moratorium is lifted; balance the rights of landlords and needs of tenants; and connect with resources to help tenants stay in the homes and landlords get financial relief.

In its report, the task force provides recommendations for landlords, tenants, attorneys and courts. Also, the report included links to resources for rental assistance and legal aid, sample repayment plans and a sample scheduling plans for in-person and remote court hearings.

The task force is encouraging landlords and tenants to communicate with each other, explore options to evictions, discuss payment plans and put all agreements in writing.

Likewise, attorneys representing clients in eviction cases are being urged to work with their clients to explore settlement and payment plans and to emphasize problem-solving through alternative methods of relief and resources available to landlords and tenants. For eviction cases that are filed, lawyers are encouraged to offer pro bono services and communicate with clients about court operations.

The task force noted the increase in eviction filings and the potential for more unrepresented litigants will put a greater burden on the courts to balance the rights of both landlords and tenants.  Recommendations for the courts include developing a method to prioritize cases, implementing a remote hearing option, and considering adjustments that may be needed to current procedures to handle requests for default judgments and failures to appear.

Formed in June, the task force held eight meetings between June 19 and July 21. The task force members and staff include Allen Superior Judge Jennifer DeGroote, Lawrence Township Small Claims Judge Kimberly Bacon, Lake Superior Magistrate Judge Kathleen Belzeski along with Brandon Beeler, director of the Housing Law Center at Indiana Legal Services, Christine Hayes Hickey, managing partner at Rubin Levin and creditor bar member, and Michelle Goodman, staff attorney at the Indiana Office of Court Services.

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