A law enacted recently in Indiana will make it easier for landlords to evict low-income renters. Being passed over the governor’s veto, this law will also prevent local governments from regulating landlord-tenant relations.
Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 148 expands the types of cases that are eligible for emergency possession orders. An emergency possession order means that a landlord can evict a tenant on short notice because of a threat caused by the tenant. If a judge approves, tenants have only three days to vacate their apartments.
Before this law, only severe cases, like damage to property, typically qualified for this quicker eviction process. The law now allows emergency possessory orders for cases where the tenant is not at fault. This includes nonpayment of rent and vacating the premises, among other things.
There will be other problems caused by this law. Tenants can be evicted for reporting code violations. Since vacating a unit qualifies for an expedited eviction, tenants can permanently lose their home if they have to leave while repairs are being made. If tenants complain about apartment conditions, the law allows waiving anti-retaliation protections in leases.
The law also says that only the state legislature has jurisdiction over landlord-tenant relations. Local ordinances related to landlord-tenant relations, including fair housing protections against discrimination, can only be addressed by the state legislature.
SEA 148 was in part spurred by the City of Indianapolis adopting a Tenants Bill of Rights. Indianapolis landlords are required to have tenants sign a renters rights document when they move in or when they renew the lease.
The renters rights document says that tenants have a right to safe and livable homes. The landlord must inform residents of lead paint hazards, keep common areas clean, and elevators in working condition. Tenants have a right to basic privacy in their homes. Landlords must return security deposits within 45 days if the unit is in good condition and renters leave a forwarding address.
The renters rights also include fair housing protections. It spells out that these protections not only cover race and sex, but also sexual orientation and gender identity.
Under SEA 148, these protections are gone.
Indiana already has high eviction numbers, even though the CDC’s national eviction moratorium is in effect. According to the Eviction Lab, there have been an average of 950 evictions a week during the CDC moratorium. The state has the highest number of evictions among the states tracked. This law will only speed the pace of evictions across Indiana.
This is an extraordinary case in many ways. A Republican legislature overrode the veto of a Republican governor, and it was the only veto he issued last year. Indiana housing advocates also think it may be the first time a state legislature has taken this approach to help landlords file evictions. The fact that the legislature did this in the middle of a pandemic is also eye-opening.
Housing and community development advocates in Indiana have mounted a campaign to challenge the law. They have documented the horrible living conditions of many renters during the pandemic. Advocates are compiling these stories and will be sending them directly to state and local elected officials.
Landlords in other states are putting pressure on state and local elected officials. Small landlords have especially hit hard by the pandemic, many of whom rely on rent for their retirement income. But if other states follow Indiana’s lead, many more low-income renters around the country may face eviction even though the federal moratorium should protect them.