Marion County Health Department begins issuing emergency orders for renters without heat

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The cold weather this week has furnaces kicking into high gear, and for some renters that led to the discovery that their heat doesn't work.

Health inspectors in Marion County began issuing 24-hour emergency orders to landlords this week, as temperatures dipped below freezing during the day and night. Once an order is issued, a landlord has 24 hours to fix heat for a resident before a case is cited into court.

Lara Morgan, team leader at the Marion County Health Department, showed FOX59 infrared thermometers that inspectors can point at a vent to see if warm air is heating a unit. According to city code, a permanent heating system must be in place to keep a unit above 68 degrees.

"Not having heat is particularly dangerous for the residents," Morgan said.

Morgan said the department encourages renters to try to work with their landlord before they call in a complaint, since inspectors cannot bring in someone to fix the heat.

"We really, really prefer that they work with their landlord or property manager first, because that’s who’s going to be ultimately be able to fix it," Morgan said.

A landlord cannot offer space heaters as a long-term solution to residents without heat, they must fix a furnace or central heating system.

"Many residents, when we go to do our inspections, we find that they’ve found alternate sources and we, of course, advise them that that’s a very dangerous way to be heating their homes," Morgan said.

Firefighters tell FOX59 that as many as half of all fires are caused by space heaters. While they can be used short-term, Morgan said renters should know that heat is considered an emergency issue and they can call the health department if a landlord is not fixing the heat.

In extreme cases, the health department offers resources to residents who have to move out of a unit if it is vacated due to lack of heat.

"We ask that they contact their landlord or property manager first to make sure that they can do whatever they can do help them before they contact us, but if that is not working out for them, they are welcome to give us a call and then we will reach out, do an inspection, and notify the owner or property manager of the violations," Morgan said.

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