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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 1:00 am

High court to weigh rental registration fees

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Supreme Court is preparing to review the constitutionality of a 2015 state law targeting the city of Hammond's rental registration revenue.

The state's high court will hear oral arguments Thursday about a law limiting housing rental registration fees to $5 per unit per year, the (Northwest Indiana) Times reported. The law exempts Bloomington and West Lafayette due to their unique rental market as college towns. But the limit applies to Hammond, which charges rental registration fees of $80 per unit to partially offset the cost of conducting regular inspections to ensure properties are safe for living.

The law has caused a more than $700,000 deficit in Hammond's rental registration and inspection program, according to the city.

The state Court of Appeals struck down the law in February, concluding that lawmakers and then-Gov. Mike Pence violated the constitutional ban on special laws “relating to fees or salaries” by allowing only the two college towns to charge a rental registration fee distinct from the rest of Indiana. The appeals court also concluded that the rental markets in West Lafayette and Bloomington are not unique enough to justify special legislation.

“Indiana logically requires a factual basis to justify special legislative treatment,” said Bryan Babb, attorney for Hammond. “There is no such factual basis here because the special legislative treatment is obvious logrolling meant to burden Hammond and impact this litigation, which could not pass without exempting two influential municipal heavyweights.”

Attorneys for property managing company Herman and Kittle Properties Inc. and Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher plan to argue Hammond cannot contest the law. They cited in court documents a 1975 ruling that essentially prohibits local governments from challenging special legislation enacted by the state.