Perhaps there is no area of law where the parties find themselves more naturally opposed to one another than in a landlord-tenant case. On one hand, a landlord wants to be paid the rent they are rightfully owed; on the other hand, the tenant does not want to be forced out of the only place they have to live because of a missed or late payment. At its most basic, landlord-tenant law is essentially contract law. The parties’ contract is the lease and the promises contained therein to pay rent, and to be provided a habitable place to live. But what happens when one party breaks their promise, or if there isn’t a valid lease?
Article 31 of Title 32 of the Indiana Code provides the statutory basis for the laws that govern landlord-tenant relations. Although the courts have greatly improved the ease of access to eviction proceedings for self-represented parties, court staff and clerks are not attorneys and cannot provide you with legal advice. Helpful though they may be, there are many intricacies in the landlord-tenant law that only an experienced attorney can help you navigate.
One often-faced hurdle is: What do I do if I do not have a written lease? If you are tenant renting from a landlord without a written lease, or if you had a lease but it has expired, there are still certain protections the law affords you both through statutes and common law (binding court decisions). But those protections are limited, and they may not be what you think. If you are only one day late with a rent payment, can the landlord still evict you? How many days’ notice does the landlord need to provide you before beginning an eviction proceeding? What if the landlord locked you out? These are precisely the types of questions an attorney can answer. If you are a landlord and you do not have a written lease or your lease has expired, the law will infer an agreement between the parties and require certain formalities that must be followed with the filing of an eviction and the collection of rent.
The law also requires that landlords follow certain statutory rules that may not be obvious to a non-attorney. If you are a landlord, what can you do or not do with security deposits? There is an entire section of the Indiana Code, IC 32-31-3, et seq. that deals with how to treat security deposits. If a tenant damaged the property before they left, can you use the security deposit to offset your costs of repair? Yes, you can, but you first have to give the tenant written notice of any deductions from the security deposit within not more than forty-five (45) days from the date possession was returned to the landlord. Failure to provide such a written notice could result in the landlord not only having to return the entire security deposit but also pay attorney fees incurred by the tenant. What if your tenant abandons the property, or moves out after an eviction and leaves behind personal property in the rental? Again, there is an entire section of the Indiana Code, IC 32-31-4, et seq. that lays out the rules and restrictions for how to handle tenant personal property. Some property can be stored and removed; some property can be held as a lien against any unpaid rent. But there are also notice requirements that must be met, and other formalities that must be followed.
At McKinney & Malapit Law, we can help you obtain an eviction, but also advise on and handle post-eviction matters such as security deposits, personal property, and motor vehicle liens. We can also handle proceedings supplemental to enforce and collect judgments. If your tenant left without notifying you of their new address, or providing contact information, we can bring them into court to obtain the information necessary to collect what they owe. If a tenant is failing to appear, we can locate them through their employer and obtain garnishments on their income sources to make sure you are paid what you are owed.
One way to avoid problems in landlord-tenant law is to have a well written lease. Perhaps the most underutilized tool by landlords is the lease itself. At McKinney & Malapit Law, we can help you draft a fair lease that will be enticing to tenants but also protect your interests. A well written lease provides clear guidelines for tenants’ rights and responsibilities as well as those for the landlord, while still being flexible enough to adapt to different rental scenarios.
Whether you are a landlord with a single rental property, the owner of a multi-unit dwelling, or a property manager, we can assist you. If a tenant has missed rent payments, is habitually late, has caused damage to the property, has abandoned the property, or has breached a material term of the lease, we can help. From reviewing and drafting a lease, to eviction and collection, we can help simplify and expedite the process.
If you are tenant that is facing eviction, or perhaps living in a rental unit and believe the landlord has treated you unfairly, we can help. If the property is not habitable, the landlord has refused to accept your payment, has tried to evict you without notice, or has interfered with your possession or enjoyment of the property, contact us so that we can review your case and help guide you to the best solution.
Barry A. “Drew” Hall is an associate attorney at McKinney & Malapit who is licensed to serve in the Indiana State Courts and the Indiana Court of Appeals. He attended Michigan State College of Law and is an active in the Muncie Bar Association.
McKinney & Malapit Law is a general practice firm serving all of Indiana out of its Fishers and Muncie offices.
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