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Indiana rent law creates challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 12:35 AM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 00:35:26-04

MUNCIE — Rent is due in just a few days for families and small businesses who rent out residential and commercial spaces across the state.

Since many Hoosiers are struggling to make ends meet because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Eric Holcomb has extended the state's moratorium on evictions until June 30. But after that it's unclear what might happen to those who still owe rent money.

Two Muncie businesses both trying to make ends meet during the pandemic.

"I need to find out how I'm going to make my rent," Morgan Roddy, owner of Queer Chocolatier in Muncie, said.

Queer Chocolatier's landlord was firm on rent — it was due despite the chocolate shop being closed.

"My landlord was not open or accommodating in any way whatsoever," Roddy said.

But Mark III Tap Room was given a break to try and figure things out.

"I feel very lucky," Natasha Martz, owner of Mark III Tap Room, said. "We are blessed to be in the spot we're in."

Both businesses have received support from the community, but this situation has some people asking whether mayors or city councils could enact rent freezes for tenants.

The answer is no. The law now in Indiana prevents local governments from regulating rent on any private property — that must be done through the state's General Assembly.

"We have laws on the books that prevent local folks from making their own decisions," State Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said.

Ford said the pandemic has shown that he and his colleagues need to address the issue in next year's legislative session.

"We need to be doing everything that we can to keep small businesses in their space," Ford said.

With Republicans holding the majority in both chambers, any legislation Sen. Ford puts forth will need bipartisan support.

"Those friends of mine across the aisle, they say they're for small businesses so I think this would be an opportunity for us to come together to really show them we are for small businesses," Ford said. "People are nervous and scared, not only about small businesses trying to stay in their space, but also private regular citizens trying to stay in their apartments or stay in their homes."

Roddy knows not much can get done until the next legislative session but that isn't stopping her from pushing for changes now to help out renters.

"There needs to be some way to level the field and if I can take some moment of this process to really take advantage of that that's what I'm going to try and do," Roddy said.

RTV6 reached out to state senators and representatives from both parties over the last two weeks, however, Sen. Ford was the only lawmaker who agreed to an interview.