City-County Council passes proposal to protect renters despite amendment to state bill

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — It’s a solution to what some call a major problem. Renters are being thrown out on the streets, even if landlords aren’t keeping their end of the deal.

It’s something local homeless shelters like Family Promise of Greater Indiana say happens all the time.

“Roughly 80% of our tenants come in, and they know they didn’t pay rent, so they didn’t go to court and they worked on finding a new place. None approved them, so they went to a shelter,” said Family Promise Executive Director Michael Chapuran. “However, there’s 20% that when you vet their stories, and you talk to the landlords, you find out they had a legal case to stay there.”

In one example, Chapuran said a woman reported health and safety concerns at her rental property that the landlord would not address. In response, she was evicted, and had no means to fight it in court.

“Right now with the unbalanced laws we have, they can’t even get a good showing up or hearing in court,” Chapuran said.

According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, Indianapolis has more evictions than every single U.S. city except for New York.

Proposals 40 and 41 would hopefully lower that number by limiting wrongful evictions. Proposal 41 prohibits landlords from taking retaliatory action against tenants, requires landlords to give renters notice of their rights, and prohibits discrimination based on expunged evictions. Proposal 40 would set aside $250,000 to be used for legal services related to tenants’ rights.

Chapuran and a group of supporters brought signs and packed the meeting room, hoping city leaders would vote to pass both proposals. State Representative Robin Shackleford, a Democrat who represents the east side of Indianapolis, also spoke in favor of the proposal. She says she also tried to propose legislature at the state level to address the issue after residents in her district complained of predatory lenders.

“They don’t see that they have enough rights, or equal rights, when it comes to fighting these landlords,” Shackleford said. “They just want to be able to live in healthy housing.”

However, the morning of the meeting, her colleagues took up the issue in a House Judiciary Committee meeting, adding an amendment to Senate Bill 340 which would prevent local governments from passing their own ordinances on the issue without approval from the General Assembly. Example, Proposal 41.

The bill’s original author, Republican Senator Victoria Spartz of Noblesville, said the amendment “appears reasonable to ensure uniform, predictable and stable housing market across the state.”

Like the city’s proposal, the amendment also prevents landlords from taking certain retaliatory action against tenants, however, city officials feel it doesn’t do enough.

“We think (our proposal) is a lot stronger than what the state proposal is,” said Matt Giffin, Deputy Director of Legal Counsel for the Office of Public Health and Safety.

Supporters also feel the city should have the right to pass their own rules. It’s an issue they feel impacts Indianapolis differently than other cities around the state, and they feel the timing of the amendment was an attempt to prevent Proposal 41 from going into effect.

“I don’t know why representatives from Jasper or Kokomo or Evansville, who send us their homeless families, are now telling us we can’t change the laws to help serve them and their housing needs,” Chapuran said.

Senate Bill 340 will now move to the full house for consideration.

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