Indiana lawmakers force through ban on local rental rules

INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Indiana cities will be largely blocked from regulating rental properties after state lawmakers voted Wednesday to override the governor’s veto of the prohibition.

The Republican-dominated Indiana House voted 67-32 largely along party lines to override the veto that Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued in March following the end of the 2020 legislative session. The Senate also voted down the veto last week, putting the prohibition into law.

Republican backers of the bill pushed by the Indiana Apartment Association argued that it established uniform statewide regulations for landlord-tenant issues, rather than forcing landlords to face a “hodgepodge” of local regulations.

Opponents maintained that it takes away the ability of local officials to protect tenants from abusive landlords and that the prohibition was only sought in the closing days of last year’s legislative session after Democratic city officials in Indianapolis approved regulations allowing fines for landlords who retaliate against renters over living condition complaints.

The bill would prohibit local regulations on matters such as the screening process for renters, leasing terms, fees charged by landlords, or requiring notification of tenants’ rights.

Tenant advocates, however, have maintained the proposal would be unfair to the estimated 30%, or some 2 million, of Indiana residents living in rental housing and tilt state law heavily in favor of landlords.

Republicans pointed to bills advancing this session that would delete a clause banning local rules on any “aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship,” which Holcomb cited in his veto message.

Leaders of local government organizations and tenants-rights groups haven’t been satisfied with that step.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford of Indianapolis called the rental regulations ban “unconscionable” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while many renters are facing possible evictions.

“Republicans seem relentless in their drive to strip local governments — particularly that of the city of Indianapolis — of their authority in these matters,” said Shackleford, chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus. “The General Assembly is not and cannot be the end-all, be-all power in Indiana. We have 92 individual counties across our great state that experience unique issues.”

Opponents also say they’re worried the proposal would negate current local regulations, such as those on apartments in college towns, including Bloomington and West Lafayette. They also raise concerns about whether the proposal’s impact on local anti-discrimination ordinances in cities such as Indianapolis, Columbus and South Bend that go further than state law and include protections based on sexual orientation.

The Indianapolis regulations were adopted following an Indianapolis Star investigation into renters living in deplorable conditions while landlords escaped government scrutiny.

Republican Rep. Jerry Torr of Carmel said the city’s regulations could result in landlords having “less money available to make repairs and then it would lead to less availability of affordable housing.”

Brandon Beeler, director of Indiana Legal Services’ Housing Law Center, was the ban on local regulations will put many renters at further jeopardy when facing lawyers representing out-of-state property owners.

“We’re very concerned about the tenants who already have a lack of parity are just going to have further encumbered their due process rights,” Beeler said.

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