The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 09, 2021 1:00 am

General Assembly

Senate votes to override on tenant bill

Holcomb defends veto from last year

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Senate voted 30-17 Monday to override Gov. Eric Holcomb's veto of a bill last year banning local governments from regulating landlord-tenant rules.

Opponents say it is landlord-friendly and will lead to a crisis in evictions during a pandemic. Supporters say standard rules should apply statewide and a trailer bill will fix any concerns about vagueness.

Sen. Aaron freeman, R-Indianapolis, said landlords are hurting, too.

“Lots of people haven't received a nickel since March,” he said. “There are two sides to every coin.”

But Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said different cities have different needs, such as university communities with student rentals versus smaller counties and urban cities.

“Indiana is facing an eviction crisis that could leave 700,000 Hoosiers homeless,” she said. “Why are we discussing legislation that would only quicken the path?”

Senate Enrolled Act 148 would prevent local government from regulating virtually all aspects of landlord-tenant relationships – from screening and deposits to leases and disclosure. It came last spring as a reaction to an Indianapolis ordinance put in place to provide tenant protections.

But Holcomb vetoed it just as the pandemic began, and it appeared a housing crisis was hitting.

“While I understand the bill was intended to create uniformity between state and local law governing the relationship between landlords and tenants, I believe this is not the right time for such language to become law,” Holcomb wrote in a letter explaining the veto.

He also questioned the law being overly broad. So the Senate is moving a separate piece of legislation – Senate Bill 150 – that will fix that one provision. It is called a trailer bill.

The veto must still be acted on in the Indiana House. It can be either overridden or sustained with a simple majority.

Housing advocates lined the street around the Statehouse in bitter cold weather Monday. They support what they describe as a more balanced approach and letting local cities and towns address their own issues.

“SEA 148 is up for an override vote at a time when we are entering the coldest weeks of the year,” said Prosperity Indiana Coalition member Laura Berry, who is also executive director of Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence Inc.

“This is known as 'white flag' conditions, when the temperature or wind chill is expected to be at 35 degrees or below for at least four hours overnight. But Indiana homeless programs are already at capacity due to increased homelessness, reduction in capacity as a result of COVID-19, and fewer volunteers to provide resources and facilities to individuals at risk of homelessness. Legislators are putting the health and safety of Hoosier families at risk with SEA 148,” Berry said.

Holcomb stood fast.

“I remain confident in my past decision to veto Senate Enrolled Act 148 last year,” he said. “To be sure, we are still navigating through this once-in-a-century pandemic and, therefore, I still believe this is not the right time for that overly broad language to have become law. While I obviously disagree with their decision to override my veto, I hope the General Assembly will take a careful look at how this new law will affect local residents and units of government.”

Last year's vote was 29-19 in the Senate  and 64-32 in the House.

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