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As lawmakers pause bill on tenant protections, housing advocates call for immediate action

Andrew Bradley with Prosperity Indiana (Ben Thorp/WBAA News).
Andrew Bradley with Prosperity Indiana (Ben Thorp/WBAA News).

Tenant advocates gathered at the Statehouse to call on lawmakers to take action to protect tenants in what’s left of the 2023 legislative session.

The event comes as a key bill to protect tenants was gutted earlier this week.

On Wednesday, a senate committee sent Senate Bill 202 – intended to help tenants deal with negligent landlords – to a summer study committee, the second year in a row that legislation to address tenant protections has been sent there.

The bill would have allowed tenants to put their rent into escrow until landlords fixed habitability issues including lack of electricity, heat, or water.

Andrew Bradley is with Prosperity Indiana. He said the importance of the issue hasn’t been impressed on lawmakers.

“Our message is this issue is too critical to not address this session,” he said.

Bradley said the lack of enforcement of habitability standards in Indiana has raised a variety of other housing costs for the state.

“We believe that the major reason that Indiana has some of the highest rates of severe housing cost burden in the Midwest and lowest rates of affordable and available housing is due to the lack of enforcement,” he said.

Several groups outlined why tenant protections were crucial, noting that rent escrow systems are used in more than half of states to help address critical problems with a rental property.

Amy Nelson is with the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana. She said in the past two years the center has received over 300 calls from Hoosiers living in “deplorable” conditions.

“This is a statewide problem,” she said. “And as we document in a recent report this is at the same time that Indiana landlords are seeing record profits.”

Nelson said that legislation like SB 202 would simply enforce existing laws.

“Statewide our Hoosier renters have leases in place which require they have habitable space. They pay their rent, but their landlord won’t make needed repairs despite being asked over and over again,” she said. “What are people to do?”

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is with the Greater Indianapolis Multifaith Alliance, which has been advocating for tenant protection. He said the lack of legislative action on tenant protections can be placed at the feet of lobbying from the Indiana Apartment Association.

“Ninety percent of this is special interest, primarily coming from the Indiana Apartment Association,” he said.

The Indiana Apartment Association did not respond to a request for comment.