The Indiana Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would seal eviction filings in some instances.
The instances outlined in HB 1214 include when there is no action on an eviction case after 180 days from the initial filing, when an eviction filing is resolved outside of court, or when a judgment is entered in favor of a tenant.
Tenant advocates have long argued that eviction filings can serve as a permanent “scarlet E” that harms a renter's chances of getting housing in the future — even if an eviction filing against them is ultimately thrown out.
Sen. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) sponsored the bill in the Senate. He said the bill will give tenants avenues for sealing eviction filings but also allows landlords to start an application for emergency rental assistance.
“My understanding is that there is $168 million in that fund that are unused because tenants are unable or unwilling to do the necessary paperwork,” he said.
Tenant advocates have raised concerns that renters are often not aware of eviction-diversion resources available to them. The state only last year began requiring judges to inform tenants of eviction diversion resources including rental assistance.
Sen. Timothy Lanane (D-Muncie) said he would have liked to see the bill automatically expunge tenant eviction filings.
“Why shouldn’t the expungement be automatic if the matter is resolved in the favor of the tenant?” he asked. “But otherwise I want to urge everyone to vote for this. This is the first time that I think we’ve really addressed this issue of eviction stigma and how it can hurt people years down the road.”
Andrew Bradley is the policy director with Prosperity Indiana.
“I think House Bill 1214 is a great first step to tackle part of the ‘scarlet E,’” he said. “But what it doesn’t do is tackle the underlying cause of why Indiana has the highest eviction rate in the Midwest.”
Bradley pointed to numbers from Eviction Lab showing that Indiana has seen roughly 85,000 eviction filings since the start of the pandemic.
“House Bill 1214 won’t stop those eviction filings from happening but it will seal a portion of them so when the tenant is found to not be at fault they are able to get back into housing,” Bradley said. “It’s not like this problem is behind us. We may yet not have seen the peak of Indiana’s pandemic-related housing crisis because it tends to be a lagging indicator.”
The amended bill will need approval from the House before heading to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.