Following house fire, local lawmakers call on AG's office to protect renters

NOW: Following house fire, local lawmakers call on AG’s office to protect renters

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The LaPorte Avenue house fire that led to the death of six children has pushed local lawmakers to call on the Indiana Attorney General to take stronger enforcement actions against problem landlords.

"We ask for any and all measures to be taken to expedite this process to provide continued housing security for all of our constituents involved," Democratic State Rep. Maureen Bauer and State Sen. David Niezgodski wrote to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita in a letter shared with ABC57. "We appreciate your attention to this matter and trust that your office will take the necessary steps to address these concerns promptly."

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, the home failed a safety inspection just months before the Smith family moved in.

"Unfinished and overlooked landlord repairs may have played a role in its cause," the letter said. It also points to chronic issues at the Cedar Glen Apartments in South Bend as causing "heightened urgency to the need for the Office of the Attorney General, who has the authority to help and bring assistance."

Rokita's office tells ABC57 its Homeowner Protection Unit has received the letter from Rep. Bauer & Sen. Niezgodski.

"As the Attorney General has demonstrated consistently and repeatedly over the last several years, he takes tenants’ rights seriously and moves quickly to resolve those matters," a spokesperson for Rokita's office said. "Our office will not hesitate to hold landlords accountable if they act in a manner inconsistent with Indiana law." 

Destiny Wells, a Democratic candidate running against Rokita for Attorney General, believes the state's conservative legislature has avoided tough regulation on rental properties and their owners. If elected, she claims there are opportunities for stronger legal actions from the state to protect tenants. 

"As long as we have a supermajority of Republican legislators, the laws will continue to favor landlords," Wells said. "And so, we need an Attorney General that is a Democrat who can push up against that and say, 'this is what's really going on, Hoosiers.' And that these laws aren't being passed in your favor."

The AG's office says its Homeowner Protection Unit currently has 139 active investigations involving a tenant complaining about a landlord.

Anyone who needs to file a consumer complaint with the Indiana Attorney General can fill out an online form HERE or order a complaint form by dialing 1-800-382-5516.

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