South Bend tenants accuse state legislators of giving 'too much power' to landlords

NOW: South Bend tenants accuse state legislators of giving ’too much power’ to landlords

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Senate Bill 340 (SB340) is a bill under consideration at the Indiana Statehouse that when originally written was designed to give tenants more support in disagreements with landlords, according to the South Bend Tenant Association. That bill was amended Thursday and, also according to the South Bend Tenant Association, now limits tenants' rights and further empowers landlords.

"I think it's a disgrace to put it mildly," said Judith Fox, a Notre Dame clinical professor of law. "The fact that, first of all, Indiana has some of the highest eviction rates in the country. We know how damaging evictions are to the public, to our health, all of those things. There were two bills that were proposed that would have helped tenants in this state. They didn't get even a hearing, and then, sort of in the dead of night, the apartment owners association gets to slip an amendment into a completely unrelated bill that guts tenants' rights in this state."

Supporters of the amendment said it will create a more predictable and stable housing market across Indiana.

SB340 was originally written to give private property owners more help against claims of eminent domain.

South Bend Tenant Association founder and president Rodney Gadson said he'd support that bill, but the amendment added Thursday left him feeling like State legislators have lost touch with their constituents.

"Why don't you come down here to South Bend, Indiana and walk a mile in people's shoes?" Gadson said.

The specific amendments were not made immediately available, but the Tenants Association is opposed to how the bill prohibits city governments from requiring landlords notify tenants of their rights and that it allows landlords to collect attorney fees and legal winnings from court case victories while tenants must still pay for their attorneys win or lose.

SB340 co-author Senator Victoria Spartz, a Republican representing Noblesville, said in a statement "The amendment proposed and passed by the House Judiciary Committee appears reasonable to ensure uniform, predictable and stable housing market across the state of Indiana. Although,  Senator Spartz is planning to dissent on this bill. If the amendments passed by the House are germane, we will further review them at conference committee. If not, they will have to be taken out. The senate has much more stringent rules on germaneness.”

The Indiana Senate has germaneness rules that prohibit amendments from being added to bills that are not related to the initial bill. Senator Spartz's office said if Senate Attorneys rule the amendment is not germane, Senator Spartz must dissent and the amendment language must be removed.

There is still a process that must happen before the bill becomes law. The original bill passed the Senate and was taken into the House Judiciary committee. It was amended there and now must pass a committee vote before a full House of Representatives vote. If it passes the House of Representatives, it would then go to a conference committee made up of state senators and representatives. That committee would then reach an agreement on its own version of the bill which would then go back to both chambers of the assembly for a full vote before going to Governor Eric Holcomb's desk. Should the governor sign the bill, it then goes into law.

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