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Indiana renters rally for their rights at the statehouse

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Posted at 8:18 PM, Feb 13, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana has the second highest eviction rate; only New York has more. Renters’ rights in the state are few and far between and many believe they don't have a voice.

On Monday, dozens gathered at the statehouse to urge lawmakers to change how tenants can respond to issues they have with their living environment.

"Personally, after all these decades, I find it infuriating to see us here still fighting, " Sian Anderson, a renter from Indianapolis, said.

Anderson reported issues with her rental property back in 2001. When she wasn't getting answers about her water not working, she contacted Call 6.

"I just want us to live like humans again basically,” Anderson said in an interview with WRTV back in 2001. “You know, I want us to be treated like we are human."

When she reported the issues to us over 20 years ago, they were resolved quickly once we showed up with cameras. But all these years later, Anderson says not a lot has change with how tenants are treated.

"Without fear of retaliation and or eviction we will be heard, we demand respect and we deserve a safe place that we can call home,” Anderson said during the rally.

She wasn't the only tenant to speak.

Renters from Merrillville, located in Northwest Indiana, also showed up. One of those renters, Earnestine Barnes, says her rent is increasing from $898 a month to $1365 a month.

The reason that was given to her from Vita Luxury Apartments on Grant is that they need to increase rent to meet marketplace.

However, she has reported multiple issues, like leaking in her ceiling, broken appliances and holes in walls. She claims all of those maintenance request have gone unanswered.

"As the amount goes up, we don't get any benefits at all,” Barnes said. “So there is people that need painting, rugs, appliances and all in that nature and they haven't done anything, not even the maintenance."

Two people who used to live at Cheswick Village Apartments on Indianapolis' far east side say that their living conditions were uninhabitable.

"My ceiling flooded, I don't know how, and it fell in, and it flooded my whole kitchen and my carpet,” Destiny Carver, a former tenant at Cheswick Village Apartments, said. “They only brought me literally one fan and they left my ceiling tore down for like over two months."

RELATED: Researchers from IU McKinney School of Law say Indiana rental policies need to change

Carver says she had to pay for a hotel for her and her kids to stay in at the time because she was pregnant and couldn’t be around the mold. She says the apartment complex never reimbursed her for that stay.

She, along with other tenants, shared how they had uninhabitable living conditions but were still required to pay rent.

Both Carver and Rhonda Cook no longer live at Cheswick Village Apartments because of how poor the living conditions were. Both dealt with mold and mice infestations among several other things. But Cook is still dealing with the aftermath.

"They are saying I have a balance of $4,000,” Cook said. “I go to court tomorrow, eviction court, but I didn't get evicted — I voluntarily left and everything. I just don't feel like I should have to pay them no more money. “

That’s why they and all the tenants in attendance support Democratic Senator Fady Qaddoura’s Senate Bill 202.

The bill would allow tenants to pay the rent into an escrow account set up by local courts. This type of policy is something he says has been established in Ohio and has had success on holding what he calls bad landlords accountable.

"That model allows a tenant to go to the court and say it’s been almost 30 days, I did not get anything fixed. I have critical service systems such as HVAC, plumbing, electricity, water that have not been fixed and my landlord has not been responsive to these issues,” Senator Qaddoura said. “In that instance, all that the judge would do is to create an escrow account under the supervision of the court by which the rental payments would be deposited in that account. Then the judge is going to interact with the landlord and the tenant to determine whether a portion of those dollars in the escrow account should go to fix those issues that have been neglected. “

The bill has a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Senator Qaddoura tells WRTV he hopes his Republican colleges won’t see this is issue as political. He feels his bill will help hold bad landlords and criminals accountable.