Indiana Tenants Are at Risk for Eviction Despite Moratorium
As the world faces a plethora of financial concerns with the pandemic forcing businesses to close their doors — both temporarily and permanently — impending bills are causing stress amongst renters. Many states are putting a halt on evictions, but Indiana, unfortunately, will not be one of those states for much longer. Governor Eric Holcomb issued a moratorium on March 19 banning evictions, although it was scheduled to expire on May 5. The expiration day has since been extended, but a new June 30th expiration date hasn’t solved the anxious nerves of renters. Advocates for both landlords and low-income tenants are expressing that renters require additional help, and that is clearly the case.
The comfort of temporary rental protection is just that — temporary. The federal government has also issued a moratorium included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that forbids evictions for renters living in homes covered by a federal mortgage, although not every home falls under that umbrella and, even those that do, can still count on a July 25th expiration date on that moratorium.
These suspensions are extremely helpful, of course, but more can certainly be done to aid residents. With nearly 40% of low-income households having lost their jobs, the U.S. hasn’t experienced unemployment levels of this nature since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Those struggling financially who have recently filed for unemployment – more than 36 million people – can’t come back from even one missed rental payment. There is no certainty that those citizens will be back at work come mid-summer, so how will they afford to pay their rent without a job once that eviction ban expires?
Prior to receiving the federal government’s stimulus money, only 69% of tenants paid any of their rent by April 5th. and after Americans began receiving their $1,200 stimulus checks, that percentage increased to 84%. That one-time check won’t do much for renters down the road, especially considering Gov. Holcomb’s moratorium doesn’t forgive their agreement to pay rent, which can easily be misinterpreted by renters. Once the moratorium ceases, this will result in a lump sum of debt for approximately 200,000 low-income households who need short-term rental assistance.
Organizations are taking note and developing initiatives to help protect renters. The Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, for example, recently formed to assist in sourcing better protection against eviction for renters during the pandemic. This group’s first stride is to get the state to designate one official to handle correlating issues and lead the way when it comes to informing the public of their resources. The Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition specifically recommends this appointed official sets up a “hardest-hit fund” for renters and puts together a website for citizens to apply for emergency rental assistance. Another advocate, and executive director of Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Amy Nelson, conveys how crucial it is to be gung ho “…so that we can try and stave off an eviction pandemic that might be coming when the moratorium is eventually lifted.” It may come as a surprise to some to hear that Indiana has some of the highest eviction rates in the U.S., so it is imperative that the state supports a fair reaction to the worldwide pandemic and assists their loyal Hoosiers as much as possible.
Even with the governor’s halt on evictions, some citizens have still received threats and eviction notices due to loopholes that some landlords have uncovered. As Garvin Senn, Vanderburgh County Legal Aid Society Attorney, tells 44 News, three renters have reached out to him in just the past few weeks to inform him that their landlord had turned off their water in hopes to push them to move out. Matthew Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, runs The Eviction Lab which has been tracking the various eviction statuses across the U.S. and assesses each state’s ability to prevent homelessness. Indiana’s outlook is not so good, scoring less than 1 out of 5 stars on Desmond’s scale. “If nothing else changes and evictions continue as normal, then this public health crisis will turn into a full-blown homelessness crisis,” he says.
Army veteran T.J. Shuck is baffled by his landlord’s complete disregard for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s eviction ban. After only missing two weeks of payments, a total of $440, Shuck began receiving threatening messages almost daily from REW Investments informing him that he would be evicted if rent wasn’t paid in two days. The taunting messages continued, yet he never received a tangible eviction notice, only a photo of an apparent official eviction complaint registered in Clinton County Superior Court which ordered him to show up to Small Claims Court for an eviction hearing, despite the governor’s order prohibiting landlords from initiating court proceedings to boot their tenants.
So, the question is how are landlords getting away with this? They’re not. They’re simply scaring tenants.
To no one’s awe, what Shuck is experiencing, along with a slew of other renters in Indiana, is likely illegal. Statewide order aside, any filing involves a long process. “Even when there is a filing, it’s not an immediate thing. The courts will have to accept a filing, process it and set a court date because tenants have protected due process rights,” explains Brandon Beeler, the director of the Housing Law Center at Indiana Legal Services. It is clear that some landlords are skirting around even the standard eviction procedures due to desperation. The Clinton County Sheriff, Rich Kelly, explains that no actual civil paperwork is allowed to be served by the sheriff’s department until the governor removes the eviction ban, but many residents would naturally be jarred and frightened to receive numerous messages and they would have no reason to believe those threats are false. As Shuck says, “Not knowing whether you’re about to be kicked out on the street with your kids is really stressful. What we’re going to do if that happens, I have no idea.”
The issue does reach both sides of the dilemma, as some more independent landlords rely on each and every rental payment in order to survive. As a local landlord, Arnold Epstein, shares, “I don’t have a pension. I need the rent. I have a disabled adult son. I have to pay his housing, his medical issues, I need money to support him.” It’s a difficult situation, as the moratorium does not mean that tenants don’t need to pay rent – they just cannot be evicted. Considering the estimated 43,000 Indiana residents that are becoming low-income renters due to COVID-19, they simply cannot afford their rent.
If a tenant is experiencing threats of eviction, Indiana Legal Services suggest they contact the Attorney General’s office and file a complaint. Concerned renters can also contact the Indianapolis Tenant Hotline to receive legal information regarding tenant’s rights and quick access to legal aid if necessary. As Beeler tells IBJ, “I don’t really believe that any landlord really wants to file to evict tenants from properties. I don’t think anyone wants to do that. Work with your landlord early, be transparent about your situation, and try to get a plan in place.” Speaking with your landlord is an excellent first step, as some landlords are able to waive rent for tenants.
This is definitely a time to come together as a community and do whatever we can to assist others in making it safely through this pandemic. A spike in eviction cases will only further damage the economy, so it is in everyone’s best interest to fight to help these citizens. As Sheriff Rich Kelly asserts in regards to the extensive steps tenants have to take if they fear being evicted, “To be honest, nobody should have to deal with that right now. It’s not a good thing for families to be dealing with that. People just need to have some patience and some compassion right now.”