As you probably know, there is a new Indianapolis tenants rights ordinance that goes into effect July 1, 2020. We want to provide some additional insight as to the details of this initiative, review the ordinance and how you can expect it to impact you as a landlord.
Providing resources for tenants is a key element of the tenants’ rights initiative proposed by Mayor Joe Hogsett in January 2020. The ordinance package was passed by the City-County Council in February 2020. The main feature of this ordinance is new legal protections against landlord retaliation.
Landlords are required to provide tenants with a copy of the Notice of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities . Tenants must sign and receive a copy of the notice within 10 days of signing a new lease or renewing a pre-existing lease.
Indianapolis landlord attorney Kathryn Ransburg has suggested to her clients that they incorporate the notice into the set of documents signed by new tenants and require it for pre-existing leases to be renewed. “The signed notice (along with other documents executed by the tenant) should be made available to the tenant through their tenant portal. That way they can access the document at any time. I also strongly suggest that information about this requirement be added to any “Renewal” language in your lease.”
Ransburg adds “I have no idea what you are supposed to do with month to month leases or properties with a pre-existing tenant with no current lease. To be safe, I suggest sending the notice immediately to all newly acquired properties. It also should be sent at least once a year to anyone on a month to month lease.”
The Department of Business and Neighborhood Services (DBNS) may require any landlord to provide copies of these signed Notices and proof that the Tenant has a copy of the signed notice. Landlords are to keep a copy of this signed Notice for at least 60 days after the end of the tenancy unless it has been replaced with a new Notice.
The Ordinance also establishes a Tenant Information Hotline which can refer tenants to legal resources (Indiana Legal Services) but does not provide legal advice. Indiana Legal Services has received a grant from the city to handle these cases.
The Ordinance also prohibits retaliation by the Landlord if the Tenant:
A landlord (or Property Manager) who fails to comply to a request from DBNS to provide proof of the tenant’s signed notice is subject to a $500 fine. If a landlord is found to have retaliated against a tenant in response to the tenant’s exercise of his or her rights, the landlord now faces a penalty of $2500, or $7500 for a repeat offense. These are the maximum monetary penalties allowed under Indiana law.
The Notice is not just about landlord responsibilities though. To it’s credit, the notice contains a list of tenant’s responsibilities including:
The tenants responsibilities though are stated with no mention of penalties. Of course, the existing eviction and damages options available to landlords continue. But the new burden of defending against claims of landlord retaliation is now a possible concern for any landlord actions.
One of the primary stated purposes of this tenants rights ordinance is to stop retaliatory evictions. If there is an eviction for any reason other than failure to pay rent, Ransburg advises “make sure you have a strong set of facts and documentation supporting the eviction filing when submitting it to me.” In other words, obtaining possession for lease violations outside of unpaid rent may be much more difficult if the tenant alleges landlord retaliation.
The language in the ordinance says that retaliation is presumed if the eviction is filed within 60 days of the tenant taking any of the actions listed above (calls the hotline or Legal Services or complains to DBNS or the Health Department). For example, a tenant has been behind in rent for several months and calls the Health Department, and the landlord or manager files an eviction within 60 days. The Court will presume that the eviction filing is in retaliation for calling the Health Department even though they are behind in rent.
This provision will cause owners to have a higher burden than existed before July 1, 2020. In addition to providing tenants signed copies of their notice (WILMOTH has established the procedure to fulfill this obligation) owners will be forced to take more corrective actions to complaints about their properties. Tenants expect that mechanicals work, air conditioning is provided, water leaks are addressed, just to name a few. A Indianapolis rental owner has to have the mindset, and the funding, to provide housing that will not cause a tenant to complain to the DBNS or Health department. Otherwise, the potential fines may far exceed the cost of the improvements or repairs the tenant is requesting.
WILMOTH is prepared to work with our clients to find amicable solutions to complaints. Our goal will be to resolve tenant concerns before they ask a third party for intervention.
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