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Indiana property group sues state over pandemic eviction ban

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Brandon Smith
/
IPB News

A group of Indiana property owners filed suit against Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday over the pandemic eviction moratorium.

The group behind the suit, Indiana Property Rights Alliance, alleges that the state eviction ban violated its members’ right to exercise control of their own property and is seeking roughly $600,000 in damages.

The state’s eviction ban ran from March 2020 to August 2020, and was coupled with stay-at-home orders intended to keep people healthy and at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium began in September 2020 and ran until August 2021.

Plaintiffs argue that the harm caused extends beyond the end of the eviction bans because the courts are now backed up with delayed cases.

The state also made federal emergency rental assistance funds available, although critics of that program worried the funds weren’t being distributed quickly enough to tenants or landlords.

Over the course of the state and federal eviction moratorium, tenant advocates argued eviction rental assistance programs were for tenants and landlords.

But Laura Guy, president of the Indiana Property Rights Alliance, said those funds were explicitly for tenants – not landlords.

“We could certainly encourage struggling tenants to apply for assistance, but we couldn’t force them,” she said. “Oftentimes these payments went directly to the tenants, but a housing provider never saw a payment. What we were looking for is some fund or assistance fund for struggling housing providers as well.”

Guy said while tenants couldn’t be evicted for non-payment of rent, landlords still had to pay mortgages and utilities at their housing units.

“What the moratorium said is you need to honor your side of this agreement under threat of jail time and up to $250,000 in fines if you don’t, but the other side does not,” she said.

The state estimates that emergency rental assistance has helped roughly 29,000 Hoosier families as of July 25, but some advocates worry that many more still need support – even as the state closes the emergency rental assistance portal Friday.

Guy said while many eviction lawsuits have sued the federal government for its eviction moratoria, this suit is a rarer instance of filing against the state.

“We aren’t suing the federal government or the CDC – we are filing our lawsuit against the state,” she said. “And all of our plaintiffs are Indiana property owners.”

A spokesperson for Holcomb said they do not comment on pending litigation.

Ben Thorp