An excellent idea to deal with predatory landlords


Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Indiana’s General Assembly will come together for an extended session in little more than a month. And an Indianapolis senator wants to hold faulty landlords to account by allowing renters to steer rent payments to escrow until an owner finishes critical repairs.

Indiana is known for its landlord-friendly legislation, and it is no surprise we’re just one of five states without laws on rent escrow. Indeed, according to an Indianapolis Star report from earlier this year, Indiana doesn’t allow tenants to pay for repairs themselves and deduct the cost of repairs from the next rent payment.

A tenant can sue a lousy landlord, but we’re not generally talking about upscale places owned by unscrupulous proprietors. Instead, we’re talking about people for whom rent is a significant portion of their income and lawyering up to fight a landholder is a fleeting thought.

Rather than support landlord negligence, state Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, is taking his case to the legislature a year after he attempted a similar bill in the last session.

“Legislators in other states have found rent escrow to be a bipartisan option that only impacts bad-actor landlords, so I would hope the supermajority would come to that same conclusion,” Qaddoura told The Journal Gazette on Thursday, adding that 90% of tenants lack a legal defense in court when suing a landlord.

“(So) this would impact any renter that is put into a situation where they feel that legal recourse is their only option,” Qaddoura said.

An analysis of the Notre Dame University-based Student Policy Network outlined the problems Hoosier tenants face under existing laws. Health impacts from landlord negligence include lead exposure, infectious diseases due to inefficient waste disposal, absence of hot water and presence of rodents and other disease vectors. Poor ventilation, mold, and pest infestation are linked to respiratory challenges and illnesses.

Time and again, it has been demonstrated that the health impacts of the poor and working-class Hoosiers have long-term financial and productivity consequences for us all.

The pandemic-enforced eviction moratorium kept people from being turned out during a national emergency; those safeguards are gone. Data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab tracker shows that Indiana’s eviction filings have been trending steadily higher since mid-April 2021. Allen County filings since early October are 3% over the annual average.

Just Neighbors’ Interfaith Homeless Network’s Shirley Rork said she had seen some horrific property-owner malfeasance. As the organization’s director of eviction intervention, she told The Journal Gazette that creating better tenant-landlord mediation is long overdue. The renters she works with don’t know their options.

“We had a family who had the ceiling fall in their apartment. They had pictures and proof and were kicked out because they didn’t pay rent,” said Rork. “And they wanted to pay it! But they wanted to live in a safe place.”

And why shouldn’t renters expect to live safely in a rental property if they hold up their end of an agreement?

Qaddoura and tenant-rights advocates have no fight with all landlords, just those bad actors who’ve greedily gamed the system. A strong tenant-landlord relationship is ideal for both parties and the communities they inhabit. Let’s hope many Hoosier state legislators see it that way.

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