What duties do residential landlords owe to their tenants? Article 31 of the Indiana Code deals with landlord-tenant relations. This article will cover the basics of a landlord’s duties to their tenant.
Safe Living Environment
First and foremost, landlords are obligated to deliver their tenants a “safe, clean, and habitable” rental property. Ind. Code 32-31-85(1). This standard is typically called the “implied warranty of habitability.” An infamous Indiana case, Rainbow Realty Group, Inc. v. Carter, 131 N.E.3d 168 (Ind. 2019), is an example of egregious violation of this requirement. In this case, a couple entered into a rental agreement with Rainbow Realty, disguised as a “rent-to-own” agreement. Their rental unit was missing door locks, electrical wiring, and toilets, and animals had infested the property. The rental company tried to get the couple to pay rent for living in the unit, while asserting that they were not the couple’s landlords because the couple would eventually own the home under the rent-to-own agreement. The Indiana Supreme Court did not buy this argument and held that Rainbow Realty was in fact a landlord, meaning that Indiana’s landlord-tenant laws applied to them. Rainbow Realty was held to have violated Indiana code section 32-31-8-5(1), among other statutes.
While not every living situation is as bad as the one presented in Rainbow Realty, the general standard for a “safe, clean, and habitable” premises is low, so additional statutory sections apply when setting the bar for landlord obligations. Indiana law states that landlords are required to provide heat, air conditioning, and running water to rental units, as well as sanitary, plumbing, and electrical systems. Ind. Code § 32-31-8-5(4). If a rental agreement states that certain appliances are to be provided, landlords must abide by the agreement and provide those as well. Id.
Landlords are also required to make “all reasonable efforts to keep all common areas of rental properties in a clean and proper condition.” Ind. Code 32-31-8-5(3). In Husainy v. Granite Management, LLC, 132 N.E.3d 486 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), a landlord knew of a leaky pipe in a common hallway. The Court there held that a week – the period of time in which the landlord waited to resolve the issue – was unreasonable, as the water had leaked all over the hallway, creating a hazard to the tenants in the apartment building. Lastly, landlords must comply with all health and housing codes applicable to the rental property. Ind. Code § 32-31-8-5(2).
Privacy and Possession
Every tenant has a right to privacy at their rental unit. Indiana code section 32-31-5-6 restricts a landlord’s access to rental property by requiring landlords to provide a “reasonable” notice of entry to the property, either orally or in writing. Landlords are prohibited from entering the rental property at unreasonable times. Additionally, landlords may not take action that otherwise interfere with a tenant’s access to the property. Examples provided in the statute include changing locks, removing doors, or shutting off any utilities in bad faith. (Note that utilities can be shut off or interrupted as a result of emergency or maintenance, when made in good faith.)
A tenant’s right to access the rental property is fundamental, and the landlord can be penalized for violations of this statute. For example, in Romanowski v. Giordano Management Group, LLC, 896 N.E.2d 558 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), a landlord violated this statute and was held liable for civil conversion when he locked his tenant out of the rental unit and denied the tenant access to his personal property inside the rental unit.
Tenants have obligations under this privacy statute as well. Tenants are not allowed to deny their landlord access to the property if the landlord needs to inspect the property, make agreed-to repairs, supply agreed-to services, or allow other prospective renters or buyers of the property to tour the unit. Landlords do not need a tenant’s consent to enter the premises in case of an emergency, pursuant to a court order, or if the tenant has clearly abandoned the property.
Lease Terms and Security Deposits
Landlords are not allowed to raise rent or change the terms of the lease during the term of a lease agreement. However, landlords are allowed to set new rent and terms to begin after the current lease period ends. The general rule is that a landlord must give a tenant at least 30 days’ written notice before changing any portion of the rental agreement unless the lease agreement states otherwise. Ind. Code § 32-31-5-4.
While Indiana law does not have a specific amount of how much a landlord can charge as a security deposit, it does provide guidelines for the return of the deposits. Landlords are required to return either the entire security deposit to tenants, or, if a portion of the deposit was used, provide an itemized list of exactly how the security deposit was spent no more than 45 days after the tenancy is over. Ind. Code § 32-31-3-12. Check out this article for more information about security deposit guidelines.
What should a tenant do to enforce a landlord’s obligation?
First, tenants should always try to contact their landlord directly if they are experiencing any issues with their rental unit. Indiana law requires tenants to provide notice to their landlords of their noncompliance. Ind. Code § 31-31-8-6(b)(1). Tenants must give landlords a “reasonable amount of time to make repairs or provide a remedy to the condition described in the tenant’s notice.” Ind. Code § 32-31-8-6(b)(2).
The Indiana Civil Rights Commissions published this fact sheet providing more detail about certain landlord and tenant rights in the state, and this IndyStar article provides a resource list of organizations that help tenants learn their rights under Indiana law. Lastly, Indiana has published all of their statutes online, including its Landlord-Tenant Relations statutes referenced in this post.
Often times, landlords and tenants run into challenging, unique issues that the law may not be clear about. If you are struggling with a landlord or tenant issue, McNeelyLaw’s experienced attorneys are here to help. Contact us today at 317-825-5110 to speak to an attorney about your situation.
This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.