Cassie Nielsen, an associate with Rubin & Levin, presented before the City-County Council on behalf of the Indianapolis Bar Association as co-chair of the newly formed Standing Committee on Public Outreach in favor of the passage of a bill that protects tenants rights. Later that evening the council approved the two ordinances. Mayor Joe Hogett and City-County President Vop Osili signed the ordinances two days later.
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City moves ahead with tenant rights ordinances while Legislature debates regulation
February 26, 2020 | Samm Quinn
The city of Indianapolis is charging ahead with a plan to protect tenants from bad landlords despite a bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly that would limit the city’s authority on the issue.
Mayor Joe Hogsett and City-County Council President Vop Osili, both Democrats, are scheduled to publicly sign two ordinances Wednesday afternoon that bolster tenant rights in Marion County after the Democrat-controlled council approved the ordinances Monday evening.
The first ordinance allocates $250,000 of funding toward initiatives that aim to assist tenants in understanding their rights and responsibilities in renting, including launching a tenant information hotline; creating the Tenant Legal Assistance Project, which will provide tenants with pro bono legal representation for claims against bad actor landlords; and providing funding to Indiana Legal Services’ Eviction Avoidance Project.
The second ordinance requires all landlords to provide tenants with a notice of their rights and responsibilities. Those who fail to do so face a fine of $500. The ordinance also prohibits landlords from evicting tenants in a retaliatory fashion if they report unsatisfactory living conditions, such as a lack of water or heat, to authorities. Landlords who violate that portion of the ordinance face a fine of $2,500. Repeat offenses could cost them up to $7,500 in fines.
But the ordinances face an uncertain future after Indiana House members on Monday amended a Senate Bill dealing with condemnation and property owner rights to negate the city’s initiative. The committee vote took place the same day councilors voted on Hogsett’s proposal.
The Hogsett administration says the amendment was added to the bill at the last minute after lawmakers became aware of the progress their ordinances were making.
Wednesday morning, Hogsett and his staff said they were moving forward with their plans despite the pending legislation at the Statehouse.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Thomas Cook, told reporters the city’s policies will take effect when the ordinances are signed by the mayor Wednesday afternoon. The city hopes the various programs will be underway by the time the proposed state legislation, if passed, takes effect in July.
Indianapolis representatives are talking with lawmakers about the bill in hopes of changing the outcome. Hogsett said if lawmakers are intent on putting laws on the book regarding the tenant-landlord relationship, he hopes they’ll first “properly assign” the matter to a summer study commission.
The bill, as amended, prohibits local governments from regulating the tenant-landlord relationship and states that any ordinance or regulation adopted before July 1 is “void and unenforceable.”
As currently written, Senate Bill 340 would prohibit retaliatory evictions, but it doesn’t put into place any fines for landlords who violate the proposed law. It also places the burden of proof on tenants, who would be reimbursed for one month’s rent if their landlord is found in violation of the anti-retaliatory language.
It is currently scheduled to be heard on second reading in the House on Thursday.
Hogsett said he’s disheartened by the amendment to SB 340. The ceremonial signing of the ordinance planned for Wednesday afternoon is recognition of the work and advocacy that went into penning those ordinances, he said, which city leaders worked on for more than six months.
“I am proud of the council and what they were able to accomplish Monday night,” he said. “The city of Indianapolis is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.”