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Bill protecting tenants from utility shutoffs heads to governor's desk

The bill protects tenants from the risk of utility shutoffs if the owner of their property fails to pay utility bills.
Credit: WTHR

INDIANAPOLIS — A bill protecting tenants from utility shutoffs is headed to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's desk for his signature. 

Senate Bill 114 passed unanimously out of the Senate by a vote of 77-0 last week and, on Monday, the House voted in favor of the bill, passing it with a vote of 91-0. 

"Senate Bill 114 is a shining example of what can happen when members of the Indiana legislature – regardless of party affiliation – come together to work for Hoosiers," State Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said in a statement. 

The bill protects tenants from the risk of utility shutoffs if the owner of their property fails to pay utility bills.

If the owner of a multifamily property has past due utility bills, SB 114 would allow the utility to ask for a court-appointed "receiver" who would take over the properties and see that the bills are paid. 

The bill's passage comes only about a year after residents of several Indianapolis apartment complexes had their water shut off over the apartments' failure to pay their bills. 

Namely, two apartment complexes -- Berkley Commons Apartments and Capital Place Apartments -- had their water shut off last February by Citizens Energy Group. The company claimed both had large, past-due bills. 

And, in July 2022, Citizen Energy Group announced plans to disconnect water and gas services at the Berkley Commons, Woods at Oak Crossing, Covington Square and Capital Place Apartments. 

At the time, Citizens said it had worked to avoid disconnecting the utilities at the apartment complexes by offering several payment arrangements to JPC Affordable Housing and Berkley Commons LLC over the course of 18 months, but said the owners had broken the arrangements or refused to agree to reasonable repayment terms. 

Citizen said utilities would be shut off Sept. 30. Just weeks before that deadline, Indianapolis leaders announced an agreement was reached to keep water and gas on and that JPC Affordable Housing would be selling all its properties in Indianapolis. 

"Indiana, especially Indianapolis, is already struggling with an abysmal affordable housing shortage," Pryor said. "The basic needs of hardworking Hoosiers should not be threatened because of a negligent landlord or an out-of-state company that owns their apartment complex."

SB 114 would protect tenants in cases like these. However, tenants who don't pay their landlord every month and instead pay the utility directly are not protected by this bill if they fail to pay for their utilities. 

"This bill prioritizes tenants and ensures that individuals who do their due diligence and pay their bills on time will not lose their utilities due to circumstances outside of their control," Pryor said. 

If it gets the governor's signature, the bill will go into effect July 1, 2023. 

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