From the Field: Indiana Office of Court Services Deters Monroe County Eviction Diversion Program

The Monroe County Indiana Circuit Court attempted to require the implementation of a Pre-Filing Eviction Diversion Program in August of 2021. Shortly after the inception of the program, the Indiana Office of Court Services (IOCS) suggested the removal of the mandatory mediation process of the program. Not requiring mediation can put many renters are put at risk for informal evictions while Indiana’s emergency rental assistance (ERA) program is still getting funds out to communities. 

The Pre-Eviction Diversion Program requires landlords to complete an affidavit 20 days before filing for eviction in which they affirm they have pursued mediation and non-eviction solutions with the renter. If the renter agrees to participate in Monroe County’s program, they would participate a free facilitation process by using the Indiana Landlord and Tenant Settlement Conference Program or through a free mediation with the Community Justice and Mediation Center.

IOCS encouraged Monroe County’s Circuit Court to forego mandating the mediation process, leaving the Circuit Court to suspect its process may be vulnerable to legal appeals. Monroe County judges are revising the Pre-Eviction Diversion Program and hope to release a new version soon.

According to Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Catherine Stafford, “Evictions are not only bad for tenants, but they are bad for landlords and the whole community. Tenants face housing instability or even homelessness. Landlords face court costs and attorney fees, plus the costs of turning over a unit. The community sees increased transience for school students and the risk of increased COVID transmission when families share housing in close quarters as evicted families seek shelter with other friends or family. Eviction diversion is a powerful tool in working to prevent evictions for the good of all parties.”

In a state with limited tenant protections, Indiana renters without a mandatory mediation process are in danger of facing housing instability. Indiana first established a tenant-landlord law in 1881, with no changes to that law until 2002. In 2002, the Indiana legislature amended the law to include summaries of tenant and landlord obligations under Indiana code (IC) 32-31-7 and IC 32-31-8. The additional codes are not clear on important tenant protections, such as allowing renters to withhold rent for living in unhabitable conditions.

The ERA program in Indiana helps in addressing evictions, but the program has only obligated roughly 33% of its first round of ERA funding. Many renters are still struggling to gain access to the state’s ERA program. Requiring landlords to participate in a mediation process can save many renters who are waiting to receive ERA funds. The IOCS intervention countervails an innovative local effort to strengthen housing stability.