Website offers help to renters facing eviction

Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic has partnered with the city of Indianapolis to create a special website to help Hoosiers around the state who are behind on rent and facing eviction.

The website, indyrenterhelp.org, helps renters who qualify for protection under the moratorium on evictions issued in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tenants can use the website to determine if they are covered under the CDC order and, if they are, can generate a letter notifying their landlord.

Chase Haller, director of housing and consumer justice at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, said the idea for the website emerged from discussions with Indiana Legal Services, Indianapolis Legal Aid Society and the city about the wave of evictions that is expected because of the economic damage and high unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since Indiana let its eviction moratorium expire in mid-August, the Indiana Supreme Court has introduced a mediation program to help tenants facing eviction.

The CDC’s moratorium is more limited that other eviction moratoriums issued at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. It protects low-income tenants who were unable to pay rent because of “substantial loss or household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.”

Recently, the CDC has offered additional guidance on the moratorium, which is scheduled to end Dec. 31.

The Indy Renter website offers clear instructions to tenants, provides links to more resources and is easily maneuverable on mobile devices. Central to the website’s development, Haller said, was crafting a self-help tool that uses plain English, rather than legalese, to explain the moratorium and help write the letter that will be sent to the landlord.

To date, according to Haller, 236 individuals have used the website to write a letter to their landlords.

The first version of the website went live Oct. 28 and was updated recently. Tenants using the site can either print the letter and mail it themselves or send the letter through email. As part of the updated website, Marion County residents are now able to select a direct mail option under which an outside vendor will print and send a hardcopy of the letter so the renter does not have leave home.   

Haller said tenants do not have to wait until they receive an eviction notice. If they are falling behind in rent, they can send a letter in advance of any eviction action to alert their landlord that they are protected.

Aside from evictions, Haller sees the possibility for broader applications of such web-based tools. Households could access legal information and use the self-help tools to be proactive in addressing whatever situation they have. Haller noted this kind of website will not fix every problem but it could reduce the number of people calling legal aid with questions and alleviate some of the workload on legal aid attorneys, thus allowing them to focus on more difficult cases.

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