And it’s nothing to brag about.
Indianapolis is second only to New York City in the number of tenant evictions. That’s not the rate of evictions–that’s the actual number. We’re ahead of Houston and Philadelphia, among others.
I have long been aware of Indiana’s deficiencies in landlord-tenant law. Among the many, many failures of the World’s Worst Legislature has been the years-long refusal of the General Assembly to pass any laws that might upset landlords by offering even the slightest protection to renters.
The legislature’s obeisance to property owners and utter disregard of renters has always been egregious, but the recent surge of purchases in “emerging” neighborhoods by out-of-state companies has made the situation much worse. Corporate and investor purchases of homes increased by 145 percent between 2019 and 2021–and these purchases are driving down homeownership and driving up evictions.
State Senator Fady Qaddoura is one of the (distressingly few) shining lights in Indiana’s General Assembly. (Full disclosure: Fady was a student of mine and I can attest to his intellect, his integrity and his values.) Last session, he authored SB230, which would have given tenants in Indiana the right to withhold rent if their landlord failed to make necessary housing repairs; the bill would also have given tenants the right to make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the next rental payment if the landlord failed or refused to do so.
Indiana is one of only five states without these habitability enforcement rights.
Of course, the bill didn’t pass; it is currently in study committee (where good ideas go to die–I served on the gerrymandering study committee and watched as members ignored evidence and made certain that redistricting reform went exactly nowhere.)
Speaking with The Polis Center’s analysts, Senator Qaddoura highlighted the necessity for providing recourse for tenants when landlords fail to repair critical systems, such as heat, water, gas, or electricity. Qaddoura emphasized that most landlords in Indiana take care of their tenants and comply with providing necessary repairs. However, he stressed the increase in out-of-state, corporate landlords that have allowed properties to deteriorate. Negligent corporate landlords such as those responsible for the Lakeside Pointe at Nora complex failed to provide heat, which led to the use of space heaters and resulted in at least seven fires in 2021 alone. Situations like Lakeside Pointe at Nora are further complicated when landlord corporations operate as non-profits entities, which makes enforcing legal penalties and oversight more difficult.
Senator Qaddoura also shared the frustrating reality of tenants attempting to communicate with landlords who are out of state and unresponsive. Unlike with local landlords, tenants have little recourse for tracking down owners or property managers when multiple LLCs are created to purchase investment properties. As essential services such as water, electricity, plumbing, etc. become unusable or unavailable, tenants are required to contact the landlord or property owner and wait for them to remedy the situation. However, in multiple cases, these repair requests remain unaddressed, and tenants are not allowed to make the repairs themselves.
According to Senator Qaddoura, families with language barriers are often prime targets for such abuses.
The small-claims courts overseeing petitions for eviction are inundated, and far too often mechanically approve a dozen or more eviction cases in a morning, without allowing the tenants to complain or explain. (In all fairness, given the lack of laws protecting those tenants or giving them grounds for those complaints, it’s hard to criticize those judges.)
That said, The Greater Indianapolis Multi-Faith Alliance (GIMA) has made the eviction crisis a focus of its efforts.The Alliance is starting an Evictions Court Watch–an effort to get more people into the courtrooms to keep judges accountable. (As one advocate noted, “there’s nothing scarier than little old church ladies with clipboards!”)
I certainly applaud GIMA’s announcement, but their efforts would be better directed at those making the rules, rather than the Judges who lack the authority to enforce rules that don’t exist. Perhaps substantial attendance at meetings of the SB230 Study Committee, coupled with other advocacy efforts, would have an effect.
But don’t hold your breath.
After all, hundreds of people from all over Indiana showed up at meetings of the redistricting study committee, armed with data showing that large majorities of Hoosier wanted reform, but continued gerrymandering easily won the day.
And that brings me back to my recurring observation about the “quality” of Indiana’s legislature.We need lots more lawmakers like Senator Qaddoura and his co-sponsors– Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, and Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington.
Of course, gerrymandering makes that legislative improvement unlikely.