By passing Senate Bill 340, the Indiana legislature sided with landlords, tipping state law in their favor and against the interests of tenants.
The bill, which now goes to the governor’s desk, blocks Indiana cities from regulating rental properties, thereby threatening current protections for tenants.
Renters of houses and apartments in Indiana generally have less control over their homes and less money than landlords, meaning renters typically are at a disadvantage when advocating for their rights. And this isn’t a small group. Renters account for 31% of the 2.5 million households in Indiana, according to 2017 U.S. Census statistics.
Legislators should have been mindful of these factors when mulling SB 340, but 29 of 50 state senators and 64 of 100 state representatives voted to pass the bill Wednesday on the last full day of the 2020 General Assembly.
Republican legislators who supported the bill were motivated by their opposition to an ordinance approved by the Democrat-controlled Indianapolis City-County Council. The measure enables the fining of landlords for retaliating against renters who complain about living conditions. It also requires landlords to provide tenants with information about their legal rights.
In supporting SB 340, the GOP legislators argued that it is important to establish uniform statewide regulations to address landlord-tenant relationships.
But the bill removes the ability of local government to go beyond state law to assure that tenants’ rights are protected. In Hoosier cities such as Indianapolis, South Bend and Columbus, councils found ample reason to pass anti-discrimination ordinances that could be canceled by SB 340.
In the case of landlord-tenant relationships, the Indianapolis council got it right by standing behind tenants, while the state legislature placed a toe on the wrong side of the scale.