New law requires agreement between landlords and renters

House Act 1013 will go into affect July 1, forcing landlords and tenants to work together to maintain safer living environments.

The law updates Indiana's tenant laws and provides state-wide housing standards .

Only leases signed after July 1 will be effected.

Under the law, renters are required to use electrical , plumbing, heating and other systems in a reasonable manner. The act will make it illegal to damage, destroy or remove any part of the rental premises and tenants must obey "reasonable" regulations set by the landlords.

Landlords are required to provide a safe, clean and habitable environment. They also must maintain electrical, plumbing, heating and other systems in good repair. They must comply with all health and housing codes in their area.

"That's at minimum what we do," said Natalie Hill, a regional manager at Sterling Housing, the group that operates Sterling University Apartments in Muncie. "Our lease covers all of this."

Rep. John Day , D-Indianapolis, the author of the bill, said modernization was very much needed for Indiana's tenant laws, and that most states had already passed similar measures.

"I've been working on this goal for 6 years," he said. "Initially, it was a very large bill... but it never seemed to pass both houses."

So Day split it up.

One part of the original bill, which requires security deposits from tenants, passed in 1989. Another, which forbids landlords from using evictions for retaliation, passed in 1999. This final section passed during the regular session this year.

"The bill creates balance. Historically, there's been an imbalance in the law," Day said. He also said both tenants and landlords have responsibilities and duties under the new law.

Day said he believes the bill will strengthen neighborhoods by improving the appearance of some buildings. Tenants and landlords will also have legal recourse when problems develop, and improve communications between them. Either party is required to give notice of a problem before taking the other to court.

The law also allows tenants to recover legal fees if they win a lawsuit. Previously, the inability to do this may have dissuaded some from taking landlords to court.

"I think the majority of landlords are ethical people," Day said. "This law is for the exception, rather than the rule. I don't expect it to effect landlords who are ethical. They already do these things."

Some landlords may lose money, however.

"For those who never make repairs, who just milk the place, it's going to cost them," Day said. "And frankly, it ought to cost them."

"If landlords aren't already doing this, that's kind of disturbing," Hill said.


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