Hoosiers should applaud State Senator Fady Qaddoura.
Let me start this post with a disclosure: now-State Senator Qaddoura was a student of mine, and I also served on his PhD dissertation committee. I knew him as an excellent, very thoughtful student and a truly good human being. When he was elected to the state Senate, I was delighted; I knew he would bring both compassion and intellect to the job.
That said, let me also assure readers that–even if someone I didn’t know or someone I actively disliked was the lawmaker addressing Indiana’s truly awful landlord/tenant laws– I would be equally supportive.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle recently reported on Qaddoura’s most recent efforts.
Legislation allowing renters to withhold rent from landlords who don’t make critical habitability repairs, and expanding tax credits for renters, holds potential in Indiana, according to a report released Wednesday as lawmakers ready bills for the 2023 legislative session.
Housing constitutes the “civic fabrics of our communities,” said Indiana Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, who spoke at the report’s unveiling in the Indiana Statehouse.
The referenced report was produced by the student-run Student Policy Network of the University of Notre Dame. It pointed out what real estate lawyers ( I was once one of them) have long known–that Indiana law doesn’t just marginally favor landlords, it is significantly overprotective of them, shielding absentee owners and slumlords from the most basic responsibilities of property ownership.
Indiana is one of only five states that lack what are called “rent escrow” laws. Such laws allow tenants to temporarily pay their rent to a third party (such as a court) acting as an escrow agent when landlords have been notified of, and failed to address, serious problems of habitability.
The report included comparisons between several other states and recommended that Indiana follow Minnesota’s highly detailed model, which includes specific scenarios, legal protections for all parties and a clear-cut definition of “essential” rental functions.
Qaddoura attempted to establish a rent withholding policy with 2021’s Senate Bill 230, but it died in a House committee controlled by Republicans. He’s taking a second stab at it next session, albeit with some tweaks.
“After further discussions with the chairman of the Local Government Committee, Sen. Jim Buck, it was clear and apparent to me that there’s hesitation within his caucus to support such ideas,” Qaddoura told the Capital Chronicle. “So we spent the summer looking at different models.”
The Capital Chronicle article referenced the recent saga of New Jersey-based JPC Properties, owner of several Indianapolis housing complexes in which tenants have faced “utility shutoffs, lawsuits and ownership changes over dangerous living conditions and rent payment mismanagement.”
“These are individuals who, as recently as a couple of months ago, were banned from working or operating in the state of Indiana or managing apartment complexes in Indiana for at least the next seven years. These are individuals who steal money from tenants without paying their utilities,” said Qaddoura, who lambasted what he called reluctance by General Assembly leaders to “go after criminals.”
Jessica Preddie, a case worker at shelter Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, described one family who couldn’t get its landlord to address mold in its unit, to steep personal and financial consequences. One family member was hospitalized at least three times over a period of eight to 12 weeks this year, lost her job while hospitalized, and couldn’t pay the rent she still owed on the moldy unit.
During the last legislative session, Qaddoura authored a bill that would have put teeth into the enforcement of habitability standards. It defined “essential services” to include utility services needed for the safe and habitable occupation by a tenant of a rental unit, and required landlords to repair or replace an essential system not later than 24 hours after being notified by a tenant that the tenant’s rental unit was without such services. The bill also provided remedies for noncompliance.
The last I heard, the bill had been sent to a study committee (where, as I have previously noted, good bills go to die…)
If you google “most landlord-friendly states,” you will find Indiana prominently listed. The lack of balance in the Hoosier state’s landlord/tenant laws has contributed to our unconscionably-high eviction rates, a problem which Senator Qaddoura has also addressed.
If Indiana could ever rid itself of gerrymandering, we might elect more lawmakers like Senator Qaddoura, and fewer culture warriors laser-focused on banning abortion and destroying public education.
A girl can dream…..