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INDIANAPOLIS –– During an extremely cold week, Indiana lawmakers look to overturn Governor Eric Holcomb’s veto to a law that could make evictions more likely.

Fair housing advocates stood out in those freezing temps Monday to show their disapproval, but their efforts outside the statehouse didn’t convince the Indiana Senate majority.

“The veto has been overridden,” said Lt. Gov. Susanne Crouch as the Senate voted 30-17.

Now the House will vote on whether to ban local government from regulating tenant-landlord relationships. The governor vetoed the law last year and sent a statement standing by that veto Monday.

I remain confident in my past decision to veto Senate Enrolled Act 148 last year. To be sure, we are still navigating through this once-in-a-century pandemic and therefore I still believe this is not the right time for that overly broad language to have become law. While I obviously disagree with their decision to override my veto, I hope the General Assembly will take a careful look at how this new law will effect local residents and units of government.

Gov. Holcomb

Republican State Sen. Aaron Freeman, of Indianapolis, disagreed with Holcomb on this veto and spoke to override it Monday.

“All we are saying is there should be in 92 counties a standard of what we are going to do and how we are going to treat landlords and how we are going to treat tenants,” said Freeman.

The Indiana Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana said that’s not what’s best for renters.

“A Bedford, Indiana may have different housing needs than an Indianapolis may,” said Amy Nelson, executive director.

Indianapolis City-County Council President Vop Osili issued the following statement regarding the Senate’s vote to override Governor Holcomb’s veto of SB 148:

I am deeply disappointed in today’s vote by the Indiana Senate to void the Indianapolis City-County Council’s decision to provide local tenants full and ready access to accurate information about their legal rights and the support necessary to assert them. I continue to believe that no government, whether local, state, or otherwise, should adopt measures that discourage or impede dissemination of accurate information to its citizens about their rights and responsibilities under the law. Educating Marion County renters about what they legally can and cannot do benefits landlords and tenants alike.  

Important as these protections are, the Council and Mayor Hogsett’s administration have not sought to protect tenants at the expense of Indianapolis landlords. Since the Council’s vote to adopt Proposals 40 & 41 last year, we have also voted multiple times to allocate more than $33.5 million in CARES Act funding to a rental assistance program that provides direct payments to Marion County landlords whose tenants have been financially impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As I said after the Council’s vote to adopt Proposals 40 & 41, the vast majority of Indianapolis landlords conduct their business fairly and have nothing to fear from better education of renters.  

The Council’s overwhelming concern now is for the tens of thousands of Marion County families who may face eviction in 2021 due to the devastating impact of the global pandemic. A home isn’t just a structure you live in; it’s also about health and safety. That this is occurring during a pandemic creates unnecessary stress for a community enduring too much. We will continue our efforts to work with our colleagues at state and local levels to protect our county’s renters from a small number of predatory landlords.

Indianapolis City-County Council President Vop Osili

The coalition fears this law will cause more evictions and offer fewer protections for tenants.

“Housing is so important. If the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t show the importance of housing, I don’t know what else we can show our legislators to make them understand that,” said Nelson.

Freeman said there’s another side to the eviction coin.

“There are a lot of landlords that are hurting,” said Freeman. “If you are a mom and pop that has bought a second home and you are renting it out and you are dependent on that income.”

Freeman said the problematic, overly broad language in SEA148 that says “Any other aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship” will be taken out through another piece of legislation, HB 1541, this session. The coalition said Indiana should study the impacts of these bills before moving forward.

“That hasn’t been done here,” said Nelson. “All we’ve been doing is every few years jamming through another bill that is one sided to the housing industry and not thinking about how those then impact our Hoosier renters.”

The coalition is also opposed to another bill expected to get a hearing this week. It’s called SB 158 and would reduce fines for a rental unit community for violating certain ordinances. The author, Republican State Sen. Mike Bohacek, said he doesn’t understand why the coalition would be against this legislation.

“I am working with cities, towns and county associations to make these fees more proportional to the violation and making them more tiered,” said Bohacek. “Ultimately, these fees are going to hurt the tenant because if the landlord can’t afford to keep the property, then the tenant could potentially lose a place to live.”

It reduces fines from $2,500 to $250 and $7,500 to $750.

We plan to follow this legislation as it gets a hearing on Thursday.