State senators are expected to vote Monday on whether to overturn Governor Eric Holcomb’s veto of a 2020 law that would prevent Indianapolis from regulating tenant-landlord relationships.
The bill would stop an initiative that cracked down on a handful of landlords in the first year.
If Republican-led lawmakers vote to overturn the veto, it would be the first time since Holcomb in 2017, signaling a break within the party.
Holcomb, a Republican, has only vetoed one other law – a 2017 bill on fees for searching for public records. The legislature did not override this veto.
A simple majority is required in each chamber for a veto override to be successful. Law author, Senator Blake Doriot, R-Goshen said he suspects the Senate Enrolled Act 148 veto was successful in the Senate vote on Monday. If the House approved it too, it would become law.
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2020 legislation would have banned cities like Indianapolis from enacting or enforcing regulations already on the books regarding retaliatory landlords. However, it prohibited landlords from taking revenge on tenants who raised concerns about living conditions.
An IndyStar investigation found that four of the House Republicans who helped advance this legislation had real estate connections.
The billing language was introduced in the last legislature shortly after Indianapolis announced a landlord initiative to protect tenants’ rights, although local landlords had pushed it back.
Doriot said the bill was not an attempt “to return to Indianapolis,” but an attempt to standardize the language of landlords across the state. He said one of his constituents who rents property will have to pay for $ 32,000 in damage from a tenant that he will not be able to evacuate this winter.
“There are good and bad players on both sides,” said Doriot. “We have bad tenants and we have bad landlords and we have good landlords and we have good tenants.”
50 gather in the statehouse to protest the veto
At least 50 people gathered and stood outside at 16 degrees on Monday morning to protest the override vote. Some held signs that read, “We love good landlords. Help protect tenants from those who aren’t.”
Housing advocates argue that Indiana needs to do more to protect Hoosier’s tenants rather than affect cities’ ability to organize their own protection.
“When do our lawmakers show a molecule of care for our Hoosier tenants?” Said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Central Indiana Fair Housing Center, in a statement. “Their measures consistently show that they only respond to the many demands of the housing industry.”
State Democrats were also quick to criticize the Senate Republicans for adding the veto power to Monday’s calendar late Friday afternoon.
Holcomb vetoed Senate Enrolled Act 148 last year after it was pushed back by hundreds of individuals and organizations, and defied lawmakers in his own party. In a statement, Holcomb said the language of the bill is too broad as it restricts a city’s ability to regulate “every other aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship”.
“While I understand that the bill is intended to create consistency between state and local laws governing the relationship between landlords and tenants,” wrote Holcomb, “I believe this is not the time to bring such language into law do.”
The veto waiver isn’t the only attempt by lawmakers to remove Indianapolis’ ability to regulate landlord-tenant relationships. A house committee is due to hear a similar bill on Tuesday morning, House Draft 1541.
The Indianapolis Landlord Retaliation Ordinance was an attempt to control a problem that Indianapolis had previously found difficult to regulate: poor landlords. A veto override would preclude any punitive measures the city actually has against negligent landlords.
Mayor Joe Hogsett’s announcement of changes last year followed several IndyStar stories documenting residents living in unfortunate conditions: dealing with broken pipes, poor electrical wiring, possums falling through the kitchen, and even droppings moving into the house was found.
The tenant rights initiative bans landlords from taking revenge on tenants to seek help or request a public health inspection. Landlords who violate this new regulation can be fined $ 2,500 for the first offense and $ 7,500 for any subsequent offense.
Landlords must now also inform tenants of their rights and obligations by having tenants sign a form required by the city when signing a new lease. Violations may result in a fine of $ 500.
These two provisions would be lifted if the veto were suspended.
As part of this initiative, Indianapolis also set up a tenant information line for those seeking legal advice on rental matters.
The initiative has so far cracked down on a handful of landlords: Indiana Legal Services, which has worked in partnership with the city, has reported 11 cases where a tenant claimed they had not received notification of their rights.
The city has also filed several retaliatory cases against landlords, but none of them have come to a resolution, according to the Public Health and Safety Bureau.
“We wouldn’t be filing thousands of lawsuits against landlords … We don’t want landlords to do business,” said Matt Giffin, interim director for the public health and safety bureau.
However, legal assistance was required: The tenants hotline, which the city funded with an initial $ 250,000 allocation and which it will fund again this year, received nearly 1,000 calls in mid-December.
According to the city, Indiana Legal Services had provided tenants with legal assistance in 225 individual cases by the end of 2020.
“There really is a great demand for help with these issues in Indianapolis,” said Giffin. “Some of these we can provide through these programs, others are beyond our current capabilities, and we can use as many resources as possible.”
The Indiana Apartment Association, which campaigned for legislation that Holcomb vetoed last year, failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
This story will be updated.
Call IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey at 317-444-6175 or send an email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmeliaPakHarvey.
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.