Renter protections rally

Representatives from multiple housing advocacy groups spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 148, which they say would undermine protections for renters, March 9 at the Indiana Statehouse. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

Several housing advocacy organizations spoke out against a bill in the Indiana General Assembly that would undermine tenant protections passed in Indianapolis and an unknown number of other cities in the state.

Senate Bill 148, which concerns zoning and manufactured homes, also holds an amendment that would nullify parts of a package of tenant protections passed recently by the Indianapolis City-County Council.

But advocates argue the amendment favors landlords over renters and, because it was brought forward by a lobbying group at the last minute, didn’t get proper democratic treatment.

“Many landlords and property owners do things the right way and for the right reasons,” Chase Haller, interim executive director of Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, said at the March 9 event at the Statehouse. “Some of them do it solely for profit, and they are grinding their heels on the floor. They do not need your protection. Working people do.”

Among large cities in the U.S. in 2016, Indianapolis ranked No. 2 and Fort Wayne ranked No. 43 in number of evictions, according to Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

Four other Indiana cities rank in the top 50 for mid-size cities.

“The reason we’re topping these terrible charts is that we’ve allowed landlords to weaponize the eviction process against their tenants, putting a scarlet letter on them, whether they deserve it or not,” said Jessica Love, executive director of Prosperity Indiana, one of the groups that organized the event.

The amendment was originally added to Senate Bill 340, but it was switched to Senate Bill 148. Lawmakers also changed the wording so the legislation would take effect immediately, rather than July 1.

The bill passed out of the House of Representatives on March 3 and is in conference committee.

The amendment was brought forward by the Indiana Apartment Association, which represents landlords. The group has denied interview requests.

If the bill becomes law, landlords who are found by a court to have retaliated against a tenant would be required to give the tenant one month’s rent. If the court sides with the landlord, however, the tenant would have to pay for damages and legal fees.

Advocates have argued those burdens are not equal.

Mark Russell, director of education and family services at Indianapolis Urban League, also spoke out against the bill.

“It’s a form of second-class citizenship that should not be acceptable,” he said.

The legislative session is expected to end by March 11.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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