Eviction is the legal process a landlord goes through to force a tenant to leave their property. It is possible for a landlord to evict a tenant in the state of Indiana whether or not the tenant is a party to a lease. However, the reasons for eviction are more expansive for tenants without a lease, since they are basically tenants "at will." Indiana laws about tenancies, including eviction rules, are set out in the Indiana Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, Title 32 of the Indiana Code.
Landlord Tenant Relations
The landlord and residential tenant relationship is largely governed by state laws. In Indiana, these are set out in Title 32, Article 33 of the Indiana Code, entitled "Landlord-Tenant Relations." Residential tenants are those who rent an apartment or a house to be used as a dwelling unit. These are to be contrasted with commercial tenants who rent space for business operations. They are subject to different rules.
Residential tenants in Indiana may rent dwelling units with or without a lease. A lease is a written agreement under which the tenant agrees to stay in the premises for a set period of time, usually expressed in years, such as one year or two years. The lease contract also sets out the terms of the tenancy, including rules about behavior while in the premises, such as noise restrictions, smoking restrictions and the possibility of having pets.
Residential Lease vs. Rental Contract
Those who rent premises without a lease may sign a rental agreement, or contract, setting forth rules and restrictions for behavior in the units. However, a rental contract is different from a lease. A lease is always for a specified length of time. For example, if the lease is for one year, the tenant agrees to stay in the premises and pay the monthly lease amount for 12 months, and the landlord agrees to allow them to reside there for 12 months. If the one-year lease term begins on February 1, the tenant is legally responsible for the lease payments through January 31 of the following year.
If a tenant does not have a lease, but only a rental contract, they do not agree to stay in the premises for any particular period. The rental is termed a periodic tenancy, meaning that the tenant pays rent at the beginning of each month and can leave at any time. Generally, these agreements require the tenant to give the landlord 30 days' notice before moving out, and the landlord must give the tenant similar notice to end the contract. For example, in a month-to-month periodic tenancy, a renter may give notice on January 31 that they intend to vacate on March 1.
What if there is no written agreement? A landlord/tenant relationship is formed under Indiana law whenever a person accepts payment for residential use of property they own. While experts advise the parties to put their rental agreements in writing, an enforceable oral tenancy contract is formed without a written document. However, no lease agreement of over a year is valid without a written contract.
Responsibility to Maintain Premises
Regardless of the terms of the lease or rental agreement, every landlord owes certain duties to a tenant or lease holder under Indiana law. One important duty is the requirement that the landlords maintain the living structure in a habitable condition and make requested repair in a “reasonable” amount of time.
The obligation to provide habitable units does not mean that the landlord in Indiana is on the hook for all repairs and cleaning. The law gives landlords the duty to maintain the plumbing/sanitation, the heating, all windows and doors, the water system, the electrical system and keep working smoke detectors in the residential units. However, the landlord need not take care of mold or pests like bed bugs. In short, a landlord must:
- Deliver the rental property in a safe, clean and habitable condition.
- Keep the premises in compliance with applicable health and housing codes.
- Make all repairs to put and keep the premises in a habitable condition.
- Keep the common areas of the building in a clean and safe condition.
- Maintain in safe working order all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, appliances and elevators supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
If the landlord does not take action within a reasonable time when notified by the tenant of a maintenance issue, Indiana tenants have the right to take alternative action by making the repairs themselves and deducting the cost from rental payments.
Warranty of Quiet Enjoyment
In Indiana, as in most other states, the tenant has the right to use the rented or leased premises without undue interference from the landlord. This is sometimes called the implied warranty of quiet enjoyment, and it limits landlord access to the rented premises.
Under Indiana Code Section 32-31-5-6, a landlord cannot access a rented unit unless it is necessary for the maintenance or safety of the premises. Before a landlord can enter, they must provide reasonable advance notice of their intent to enter, specifying a time and date. These must be reasonable as well, and midnight inspections, for example, would not be appropriate. With proper notice, a landlord can enter to inspect the premises, to make necessary or agreed upon repairs, to supply necessary services and to show the unit to prospective purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workmen or contractors.
Can an Indiana landlord ever enter without giving notice? Under Indiana eviction laws, a landlord can enter without notice in the case of an emergency, like during a flood, or if the building is on fire. They may also enter without notice if the court provides an order allowing entry or if the tenant has abandoned the premises.
Mandated Landlord Disclosures
Landlords usually know more about a premises than a potential tenant does, and Indiana law gives them the duty to pass on certain information. Some of the required disclosures in Indiana include information about who manages the premises and who the tenant can contact with issues; the name and address of the person who should receive service of process, notices and demands; and certain information about providing water or sewage disposal services. Information about flooding is also required if the property is located in flood plains.
Terminating a Tenancy
A landlord can terminate a month-to-month tenancy with a written 30-day notice in Indiana. They can terminate a year-to-year periodic tenancy with three months' notice. A lease terminates automatically at the end of the lease period, without any notice required. However, if both parties are in agreement, the residency can continue as a month-to-month tenancy.
Eviction With Lease Agreement
In a tenancy that involves a lease agreement or a rental contract for a set period of time that has not yet expired, the landlord cannot evict a tenant without good cause. They must have a reason to evict the tenant, and this usually involves a breach of the terms of the agreement, such as nonpayment of rent or other violations, like keeping a pet in a no-pet unit. Usually, evictions in Indiana are for failure to pay rent or violation of the lease or rental agreement.
The first step in evicting the tenant for one of these reasons requires that the landlord give the tenant notice of their violation of the terms of the contract. This notice depends on the reason for the eviction. If it is for failure to pay rent, the landlord must prepare and serve on the tenant a Ten-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. If the tenant has breached other terms of the contract or lease, the landlord serves a notice to cure the violation (within a reasonable period of time) or quit the premises.
If the tenant does not come current with the rent within 10 days or remedy the breach of the lease terms within a reasonable time, the landlord can file a lawsuit for eviction. If the tenant does remedy the breach, they resume the tenancy as before.
Eviction Without Good Cause
If a landlord does not have good cause to evict a tenant, and the tenant is current with their rent, the landlord must wait until the end of the lease term to terminate the tenancy. At the end of the term, the landlord can decline to renew the tenancy and, if the tenant refuses to leave, the landlord can file an eviction suit in court.
Indiana Eviction Without Lease Agreement
If the tenancy is not under a lease, it is a periodic tenancy, usually a month-to-month tenancy. This is also termed an "at will" tenancy, and the landlord does not need a reason to end the tenancy and can give 30-days' notice to the tenant.
That is, if the tenant is an at-will tenant, the landlord can give the tenant a notice that they are terminating the tenancy at the end of a 30-day period. The landlord can only terminate the at-will tenancy immediately if the tenant willfully damages or destroys the rental unit property. Written notice in the form of notice of termination of tenancy is required. After that notice is served, the landlord can go to court to file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant.
Court Orders for Eviction and the Indiana Eviction Process
If a tenant does not resolve the rental issues, such as pay rent, fix the lease violations or leave the premises, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. The parties are given a date for a court hearing. This hearing is to allow both the landlord and tenant to state their case before an Indiana court.
The court hears and decides the issues to determine whether the tenant will be evicted. A tenant who loses the eviction hearing in Indiana may appeal the decision if they believe they have good grounds. If they do not appeal, the court sets a second hearing to determine the amount the tenant owes to the landlord for back rent or payment for property damage.
Note that the actual eviction – forcible removal of the tenants and their property from the rental unit – is not a private legal matter. A landlord in Indiana is not permitted to use self-help to get the tenant out. It is only a law enforcement officer who can evict tenants and they only have the right to do so after the landlord has won an eviction case in court and the time for appeal of the eviction action has passed.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.