Eviction Court Watching

Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How??

WHO: can be an eviction court watcher?

Any individual, especially those committed to improving tenant rights in Indiana, advocating for safe and affordable housing for all Hoosiers.

WHO: are Indiana renters?

In 2023, there were 199,050 low income renters in Indiana. Of these, 36% are in the workforce, 26% are seniors and 21% are disabled. (Prosperity Indiana)

WHAT:

Indiana has very few laws protecting tenants. The Hoosier state is one of six states in the nation that has no escrow account to which tenants can send their rent if a landlord fails to correct habitability issues. Such issues include mold, broken windows, no running water, a non-functioning elevator, infestation.

In Indiana, an eviction can be filed against a tenant if they are 1 day late in paying their rent.

WHERE:

Most eviction cases in Marion County are filed in the 9 township small claims courts.

WHEN:

Each township court holds eviction hearings on various weekdays.

WHY:

Per the Princeton Eviction Lab, Indiana has 3 large cities nationwide in the top 20 for eviction filings: Ft. Wayne is #13, Indy #14 and South Bend is ranked #18 in the nation.

In Marion County, there are 209 filings/day; 1681/month. (National Low Income Housing Coalition).

1 in 5 children below the age of 18 in the Hoosier state are affected by an eviction resulting in poorer academic achievements, increased physical and mental health challenges and lower economic earning ability as an adult.

There are discrepancies among the 9 township judges in rendering decisions in eviction hearings. Currently, in Indiana, Wayne Twp.(Marion County) ranks 1st in total number of evictions, the city of Ft. Wayne, 2nd and Center Twp. (Marion County) is 3rd.

Ultimate Why:

To advocate for (1) changes in Indiana statutes that will provide fair and equitable housing for all Hoosiers and (2) programs that provide for safety nets that limit the number of evictions.

HOW:

Eviction court watchers collect quantitative data from eviction hearings in the 9 township courts and record their findings online. Although eviction court watchers have been attending hearings for a couple of years, the program was completely revamped in January 2024, with the goals of having “live data” from actual eviction court hearings, comparing the practices of the nine township judges, and providing reliable data for use by governmental agencies and non-profit organizations. Court watchers represent the community…..a community who cares about their neighbors.

Basic info to know before going into the courtroom:

  • Identify yourself by name and “I am a court watcher.”
  • You may have to go through a metal detector and/or sign in.
  • Cell phones must be muted and no talking during courtroom proceedings.
  • If you have time, introduce yourself to the legal pro-bono staff before court begins; they are very supportive of this volunteer role and will answer any questions you have about the legal process.  There may also be a navigator in the same area who gives non-legal guidance to tenants.

More Resources:

Want to learn more before you commit to court watching? Check out:

  • Princeton University’s Eviction Lab’s website. Eviction Lab is the best repository for information about evictions both locally and nationally. For Indianapolis-specific data look here. For the state of Indiana, look here.
  • Sign up for GIMA’s newsletter here. This monthly email has current eviction stats for Indianapolis and Indiana, articles of interest which you’ll also find on GIMA’s blog, and events in the Greater Indianapolis area
  • Indiana Capital Chronicle often has information on housing and related legislation
  • Mirror Indy is Central Indiana’s community-based journalism source for local news
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond’s 2017 book brought to light the atrocious systems that enable and create systems of poverty, insecure housing, and homelessness
  • Homelessness Is A Housing Problem, authors Gregg Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern use data to debunk the most common myths of homelessness, proving that things like caused by addiction and mental illness have nothing to do with high rates of homelessness. Cities with high rates of homelessness have low inventory of affordable housing – it’s just that simple.