Notre Dame Clinical Law Center publishes report on shortcomings in Indiana eviction laws

Author: Denise Wager

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Notre Dame Law School’s Eviction Clinic has published a report to examine how well Indiana’s eviction laws measure up to guidelines recently established by the American Bar Association.

The ABA’s House of Delegates created 10 recommendations for residential eviction law for state, local, and other governing bodies to implement.

The recommendations include: establishing steps to limit the stress that eviction judgments take on families by encouraging negotiated settlements, ensuring fairness in eviction hearings, limiting evictions in cases where renters are in compliance with their lease obligations or are able to quickly resolve any non-compliance, and sealing court records in appropriate cases so that families are not prevented from renting new homes.

The Law School’s report, “Eviction Protections for Renters: Does Indiana Make the Grade?” was written by Robert Jones, clinical professor of law and associate dean for experiential programs, and David Pruitt, program director for the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center. Several students that work with the Eviction Clinic also helped with the report.

The report looks at each of the 10 ABA guidelines and then discusses how Indiana law measures up to each.

The report points out, for example, that Indiana renters may be evicted from their homes with little notice and without having violated their leases. Renters are rarely represented by attorneys and are required to defend themselves without knowledge of the law. Eviction hearings do not provide a complete opportunity for renters to present a defense. Eviction court records are not automatically sealed and the mere fact of having faced an eviction complaint may prevent a renter from passing screening for future housing.

“Roughly 800,000 Indiana households, including many of the state’s most vulnerable residents, are renters,” Jones said. “The goal of this report is to help Indiana policy makers think more comprehensively about how to ensure fairness and housing stability for those Hoosiers. This report is the first to look at Indiana’s eviction laws comprehensively and to compare them to a national standard. Indiana falls short.”

The report was commissioned by the Indiana Justice Project as a part of the Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative. The lead partner in this initiative is the Grassroots Maternal Child Health Initiative, located at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

“The law students and faculty of the Clinical Law Center have represented countless renters in eviction proceedings over the years,” said Pruitt. “We see on a daily basis how the shortcomings in Indiana law disadvantage renters. It is not an abstract issue, but rather a matter of human suffering and dislocation that affects children and adults alike. There are many ways, large and small, that Indiana laws could be reformed to achieve basic fairness.”

The report is based on many hours of student research and is informed by students’ firsthand experience representing renters in eviction court.

“Our students constantly think about how the law reflects our values and impacts the lives of their clients,” Pruitt said.

Jeanna James, a third-year law student who has represented numerous renters as a certified legal intern, added that she has seen how “the way the eviction laws work in practice magnify the inequality between landlords and renters. Renters may be evicted for nearly any violation of their lease obligations, while landlords often violate their obligation to provide habitable homes with impunity.”

The other Notre Dame Law School students who worked on the report are Thomas Haracz, Brigid O’Keefe, Kate O’Laughlin, Alexa Schykerynec, Michael Snyder, and Drake Stobie.

Read the full report — Eviction Protections for Renters: Does Indiana Make the Grade?