This is intended to be an educational and informational guide. It is not intended to be or to substitute for legal advice and representation. Law, legal requirements, and procedures vary from place to place. It is advisable to consult an attorney.
How can you get evicted?
Your landlord may evict you peacefully without going to Court by asking you to leave, or by giving you written notice to leave. You may agree to do so. You might save money by leaving voluntarily. If peaceful eviction is not possible, your landlord may file an ejectment lawsuit against you in Small Claims Court. Your landlord can charge you for every day that you remain in the property, and until you turn the keys in and the landlord knows you turned the keys in. Do not leave the keys in the apartment. Your landlord can charge you attorney's fees, if your lease allows, and Court costs. If you have damaged the property, broken the lease, or are behind in the rent, no notice needs to be given to you before the lawsuit is filed.
What can you do if you get an eviction notice?
When you are served with a notice of eviction or ejectment, go to small claims Court, Room 223 of the Courts Building, at the date and time that is printed on your eviction papers. At the first hearing, the Court will decide if you must leave. If you do have to leave, the Court may issue an immediate Writ of Possession. This is a Court order requiring you to move out.
The Sheriff will serve a copy of the Writ of Possession at your residence. Forty-eight (48) hours or two (2) days later, the Sheriff may physically remove you. The landlord may move your belongings and bill you for storage for ninety (90) days and may then dispose of them. Once the writ of possession is issued, you must leave the property and take all of your belongings with you within forty eight (48) hours. The date you must be out will appear on the back of the paper you are served.
It is illegal for your landlord to change your locks, shut off your utilities, keep, take or dispose of your belongings, or put your property in the yard or street without going to Court first.
A second hearing, called the rent and damage hearing, will be scheduled at the first hearing in Small Claims Court. You must appear at this second hearing, at which the Court will decide whether you owe the landlord any money.
If you want to collect money from your landlord for damages, loss of property, or a return of your security deposit, you should go to the Vanderburgh Superior Court Clerk's Office, Room 216 of the Courts Building, and file a counterclaim in the same case immediately after the first hearing.
What can you do if your landlord has wrongfully locked you out of your apartment or shut off your utilities?
You can ask small claims Court for an emergency order telling your landlord to let you back in your home or restore your utility service. You must file a sworn written statement that tells the Court what your landlord has done, and what damages and costs you have suffered because of your landlord's actions. When you ask for an emergency order, the Court must set an emergency hearing within three (3) business days.
What if you want to collect from the landlord?
After you file a claim or counterclaim, and come to Court for the rent and damage hearing, bring receipts of all money you have paid, a list of any missing property, and pictures of problems and defects in the unit. Bring any witnesses who can testify to verbal agreements, work that was done, and defects in the unit. Witnesses who will not come voluntarily can be subpoenaed. Letters, signed and dated, and bills and receipts may be used as evidence.
The rules may be different regarding public housing or federally subsidized housing.
What should you know next time?
Before moving into a house or apartment, inspect it and ask questions. Check the appliances, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, and plumbing. Check the water supply, hot water, air conditioning, and furnace. See that everything is in working order. Ask what the expected amount of the utility bills will be and who will pay them. Check to see if the unit is clean, air tight, and does not leak. Check for insects and rodents and ask if it has been inspected by a professional. Make sure that the unit is big enough for your family and close enough to the grocery, schools, and bus stops. Be sure you can afford it and follow the landlord's rules. Check the neighborhood and the traffic. Talk to the neighbors and see how they like it. The Community Action Program of Evansville, the Evansville Housing Authority, AURORA and the Building Commission may have ideas to help you find good housing and a good landlord.
Make sure you want the apartment before you put down a deposit. You may not be able to get the money back.
Check with a social service agency, a school or public library, or LAS to view a video entitled "Landlord Tenant Rights and Responsibilities" (2002).
What should you look for in a lease?
A lease is a contract between you and your landlord. It may be written or verbal. You and your landlord will have to follow the terms of your agreement. The terms are easier to prove if they are in writing. The terms of a written lease should include the amount of rent you are to pay and how long you can or must stay. A verbal lease will be considered a month-to-month lease if you pay your rent on a month-to-month basis.
Read and understand a lease before you sign it. Failing to read or understand a lease is not a defense if you signed it. If the lease does not reflect your agreement, do not sign it. Make sure all blank spaces are filled in and demand and keep a signed copy for yourself.
A lease should contain the name of the landlord and tenant, the address of the property rented and the landlord's address and phone number, the monthly rent, when it is due, whether there are late charges, the length of the lease, the amount of the deposit and what to do to get it refunded, who is responsible for maintenance, who pays the utilities, whose name the utilities are in, and any other promises that the landlord may make.
The lease should answer these questions: Can the rent be raised? Can you sublet? Can you renew the agreement? Are minor changes and improvements allowed? Are pets allowed?
Pay your rent on time and always get a signed and dated receipt. Check the receipt immediately to see if it is correct. Keep receipts together in a safe place.
If you are behind in your rent and have little or no income, call 2-1-1 for a referral to agencies that might help you.
What if conditions are unreasonable?
You, as the tenant, have the right to enjoy the unit without being unreasonably disturbed by the landlord. You also have the right to live in a unit that is safe and sound, well heated, properly wired for electricity, with a proper water supply and plumbing. If these conditions are not met, contact your landlord and ask for repairs. Write your landlord a letter about the repairs and keep a copy. Your landlord must make repairs within a reasonable time. If the landlord says that you can make the repairs, get an agreement in writing specifying who will pay for what. You may also call the Building Commission, Code Enforcement Department, or Health Department if conditions are not safe and not livable. Do not withhold your rent unless you are willing to have the landlord evict you. Indiana does not allow what is called "repair and deduct" or rent withholding, and doing so may cause you to be evicted.
The landlord or his agent may enter the unit to perform routine inspections and make improvements and repairs upon prior reasonable notice and at reasonable times. Your landlord may keep a key to the property.
How do you get your deposit back?
When you want to move out, read and follow the terms in your lease. If you have no lease or it has expired, you must give notice in writing to your landlord at least one rental period in advance.
When the landlord wants you to move out, the landlord must give you the same notice as long as your rent is paid up. When you move, do not forget to take all of your possessions, leaving the unit in the same condition as it was when you occupied it except for reasonable wear and tear, and return the keys. You will be charged rent until you have done all of these things.
Your security deposit covers any damages arising to the landlord's property. Get a receipt for your deposit. You may want your landlord to inspect the unit once before you move in and after you move out. Each time you should list all of the problems that were observed. Take pictures if possible. Date and sign the list.
Once you have moved out and notified your landlord in writing of your new address, your landlord has 45 days to return your deposit, file a small claims suit, or give you an itemization in writing showing how your deposit was spent and why it was not returned. If your landlord does not do this, you may sue your landlord in Small Claims Court for the return of the security deposit.
In 2001, using a grant of funding awarded by the Indiana Bar Foundation, Legal Aid, Indiana Legal Services and the Evansville Coalition for the Homeless produced a video-taped presentation of the law of landlord and tenant. This video (VHS format) is available at most area public libraries.