INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a controversial bill Wednesday that would limit what local communities can do to regulate landlord-tenant relationships.

The bill — Senate Enrolled Act 148 — would have revised how much decision-making power landlords have over their properties and was the subject of intense debate during the 2020 legislative session. Several cities, including Indianapolis, were pursuing measures to expand protections for renters as legislators developed the bill at the urging of groups like the Indiana Apartment Association.

Holcomb called the bill “overly broad” in a letter that explained the veto to Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, arguing that “it would prevent almost any type of local control over landlord-tenant relationships” if enacted.

“While I understand the bill was intended to create uniformity between state and local law governing the relationship between landlords and tenants, I believe this is not the right time for such language to become law,” Holcomb said.

The veto — Holcomb’s second-ever veto in office after rejecting a bill in 2017 that would have imposed search fees on public records requests — arrived in the last hours before the governor’s deadline for action.

SEA 148 passed the Indiana House in a 64-32 vote and the Senate 29-19 earlier this month. The General Assembly can override Holcomb’s veto with a simple majority vote.

Holcomb vetoed SB 148 amid a worsening outbreak of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in Indiana. The novel virus has infected 981 and killed 24, according to Friday reports from the Indiana State Department of Health.

The virus has also posed severe economic challenges to Indiana, leading to temporary closures of businesses and schools in an effort to prevent disease spread. Many employees have lost their jobs as a result: The U.S. Labor Department is reporting unemployment claims filed in Indiana in the week ended March 21 rose to 61,635 from 2,596 claims the previous week.

Before the governor acted on SEA 148, he issued an executive order last weekend temporarily banning evictions and foreclosures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“No residential eviction proceedings or foreclosure actions may be initiated during the public health emergency,” reads the executive order, which is still in effect. “This does not relieve the individual of obligations to pay rent or mortgage payments.”

A coalition of more than 300 organizations formed against the bill as it passed the Indiana General Assembly two weeks ago. The groups persisted in their opposition as the bill awaited action on the governor’s desk and as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew.

And without the coronavirus, research shows Indiana ranks high for its number of evictions. Researchers at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab lists the city as number 14 among the country’s top 100 evicting areas with 11,570 evictions in 2016 and an eviction rate of 7.27%. The city of Fort Wayne claimed the number 13 spot in 2016 with a rate of 7.39%.

Before Holcomb vetoed the bill, Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said Hoosiers need direct assistance as they face an especially vulnerable period now and in the months ahead.

“Wherever that comes from, we need something,” Nelson said. “Otherwise, what’s going to happen is whenever we come out of this, and executive orders are lifted and foreclosures and evictions can start again, there is the potential for a huge pile-up of folks who are in danger because their job stability hasn’t changed.”

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