Landlords in Indiana can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Indiana.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 14, 2021
Renters in Indiana have rights to their rental property. These rights, often called tenant’s rights, protect renters from abuse and illegal activities from landlords. Renters also have rights in the eviction process.
This article explains the basic tenant’s rights renters have in Indiana. It also covers the basics of Indiana’s eviction laws. This article can help renters in Indiana who are being threatened with eviction, experiencing retaliation from a landlord, or who need general help understanding their rights.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process landlords use to remove a renter from the property they’re renting. A rental property may be a house or rental unit like an apartment. Evictions in Indiana are governed by state law.
Generally, landlords need a court order to complete the eviction process and remove a tenant or renter from a property. If a landlord removes a tenant without a court order, this is called an illegal eviction, illegal lockout, or a self-help eviction. Self-help eviction may include changing the locks on the doors or otherwise preventing access to the property. Actions like these are usually legal only if the renter has abandoned the property.
There are two common types of eviction in Indiana: eviction with cause and eviction without cause. The process for each type of eviction is different and depends on the type of lease the renter has. Most importantly, the type of eviction and the type of lease will both impact the type of eviction notice and how much notice the landlord must give.
Who Can Be Evicted in Indiana?
To be evicted in Indiana, there must be a landlord-tenant relationship. Usually, a landlord-tenant relationship is created by a lease agreement, also called a rental agreement. Through a lease agreement, the tenant has agreed to pay rent to the landlord to occupy the landlord’s property for a certain amount of time. Lease agreements are usually for a term of one year.
A landlord-tenant relationship can also be created without a written lease agreement. This type of tenancy is called a general tenancy or at-will tenancy. At-will tenancies are usually treated as month-to-month tenancies.
Generally, anyone living with a tenant can also be evicted, even if they’re not on the lease. If someone is living in the property without the landlord’s permission, then they generally don’t have tenant rights.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Indiana?
Under Indiana law, a landlord can evict a tenant for violating the terms of the rental agreement, including not paying rent. They can also evict a tenant once the lease has expired.
Although eviction proceedings are generally the same regardless of the type of lease, the process of notifying the tenant and the landlord’s responsibilities are different depending on the lease term and the reason for the eviction.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
The most common lease violation is nonpayment of rent. Rent violations include making rent payments short of the full amount due, making late payments, or falling behind on payments. In Indiana, it doesn’t matter how much the renter owes or how many days late the rent is.
Once the rent terms of the agreement have been violated, the landlord will send the tenant a 10-day notice to pay rent. The tenant then has 10 days to comply with the terms of the lease and pay any missing or late rent. If the tenant doesn’t pay their missing rent, then the landlord can terminate the lease and file an eviction lawsuit.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Lease expiration and lease termination both end the lease agreement. In Indiana, landlords can evict a tenant after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease has expired.
When a lease expires, it means that the lease reached the end of the term listed on the agreement. A landlord can evict a tenant after their lease expires. When a lease expires and the term ends, the landlord may choose not to renew the lease. They don’t need to have a specific reason to do this because they’re not ending the lease before it was supposed to end.
When a landlord terminates a lease, they’re ending the lease BEFORE the end of the term listed on the agreement. In Indiana, a landlord can’t terminate a lease unless they have a legal reason to do so. This means that the tenant has to have violated the terms of the lease agreement.
Lease violations can include either rent or non-rent violations. When a landlord terminates a lease, they’re alleging that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property. If the tenant has violated the lease agreement, then landlords must follow certain notice procedures before terminating a lease.
The Indiana Eviction Process
Under Indiana law, landlords must file a lawsuit to evict a tenant from their property. Once they receive a judgment from the court, a law enforcement officer will remove the tenant from the property if necessary.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
To begin an eviction, the landlord needs to send the tenant the appropriate written notice. The kind of notice that’s required depends on whether the tenant has violated the rental agreement, whether they’re a tenant at will, and whether the landlord is terminating the lease.
If the tenant has violated their lease agreement and the landlord is terminating the lease, they will need to send one of the two following notices:
10-Day Notice To Pay Rent
If the tenant violated the rent terms of the agreement, then the landlord has to send the tenant a 10-day Notice To Pay Rent. The tenant then has 10 days to pay any missing rent or rent fees.
Notice To Cure or Quit
If the tenant violated other terms of the rental agreement not related to paying rent, then the landlord has to send a Notice To Cure or Quit. This notice requires that the tenant “cure” any violations of the rental agreement within a reasonable time. To cure is a legal term that means to resolve or remedy any violations of the rental agreement. For example, if the tenant has an unauthorized pet, removing the pet from the property cures the violation.
If a tenant receives a 10-day Notice To Pay Rent or a Notice To Cure or Quit and doesn’t comply with the notice, then the landlord will be able to terminate the lease and file an eviction lawsuit.
At-Will or Month-to-Month Leases
When a landlord wants to evict a month-to-month tenant, they don’t have to give the tenant the opportunity to remedy any lease violations. Instead, the landlord can either give the tenant 30-day notice that the lease will end, or they send the tenant an Unconditional Quit Notice. An Unconditional Quit Notice ends the tenancy immediately, but it can only be used if the landlord has a legal reason to end the tenancy, like a lease violation. Once they’ve sent the notice, they can file an eviction lawsuit.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
After the landlord files the eviction action with the court, there are still several steps in the process.
1. The tenant is notified of the lawsuit with a summons.
Once the landlord files an eviction lawsuit they need to notify the tenant of the lawsuit using a special process called service of process. The tenant must be properly served with a copy of the summons and the complaint.
The summons lists the name and address of the tenant, the case number, the name and address of the court, and the date and location of the initial hearing, also called the eviction hearing. The date of the initial hearing is sometimes called the summons date.
In Indiana, to properly serve a tenant with the lawsuit, the landlord has the following options:
Sending a copy of the summons and complaint by registered mail, certified mail, or another means that requires the tenant to sign and acknowledge receipt along with a return receipt. The copy must be sent to the tenant’s residence, place of business, or employment.
Delivering a copy of the summons and complaint directly to the tenant.
Leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the tenant’s home or “usual place of abode.”
Serving the tenant’s agent, such as their attorney, according to Indiana law.
2. The tenant and the landlord must attend the eviction hearing.
Once the tenant has been served, both the tenant and the landlord will need to attend the hearing listed on the summons. If a tenant doesn’t attend the hearing, the judge will likely issue a default judgment against them. This allows the landlord to move forward with evicting the tenant. It’s very hard for a tenant to stop an eviction once the court has issued a default judgment. Tenants should do whatever possible to avoid a default judgment.
If both the tenant and landlord attend the hearing, the judge will hear arguments from both parties to determine whether the tenant should be evicted. Tenants who would like to challenge the eviction should bring any evidence proving that they shouldn’t be evicted to this hearing.
Evidence might include payment receipts, pictures, emails, or other records of communication. The tenant will usually want to show that they didn’t violate the rental agreement, or that if they did violate the rental agreement, they were justified in doing so. For more information about defenses, see the sections below.
3. The judge will issue a judgment and an order called a writ of possession.
Once the judge has heard arguments from both parties, they will issue a judgment at the hearing. The judgment determines which party has won the case. If they issue a judgment in the landlord’s favor, then the parties will decide a date by when the tenant needs to move out. Usually, the tenant will be asked to move within a few days of the judgment.
The landlord will also be able to request a writ of possession. The writ of possession is a court order that gives the landlord permission to remove the tenant from the property. If the tenant doesn’t move out by the agreed date, the landlord can give the writ of possession to the sheriff, who can then come to the property to remove the tenant.
4. The judge may schedule another hearing to determine whether the tenant owes money.
At the conclusion of the eviction hearing, the judge may also schedule a second hearing if the tenant owes the landlord money.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
If you’re facing eviction, you’ll have an opportunity to challenge the eviction at the eviction hearing. You can do this by presenting defenses, affirmative defenses, or counterclaims. If you plan to challenge the eviction, seek legal assistance from a landlord-tenant attorney if possible.
As a tenant, you may argue that the landlord’s allegations are false, which is a normal defense to an eviction action. For example, if a landlord accuses you of not paying rent on time, a normal defense would be that you did pay on time.
An affirmative defense is when you argue that although the landlord’s allegations are true, you were justified in doing what the landlord says you did. For example, a landlord may allege that you were short on rent. An affirmative defense would be that you were short on rent, but only because you used a portion of the rent owed to make an essential repair that the landlord agreed to repair but didn’t.
A counterclaim in an eviction lawsuit is when you make a claim against the landlord alleging that the landlord violated a law. If you decide to file a counterclaim, you’ll need to do so with the court and provide a copy to the landlord at least seven days before the trial.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
Most eviction cases in the state of Indiana are filed in small claims court. This means the parties being sued don’t have the right to a trial. Still, a tenant can still make a request for a jury trial, but they must do so no later than 10 days after being served with the summons and complaint. For more information about requesting a jury trial, read Indiana’s Small Claims Manual.
Eviction lawsuits in small claims court will generally only consist of hearings, including the eviction hearing where tenants need to present their arguments and evidence. The judge typically makes a ruling on the same day as the initial hearing. If the judge has ruled in the landlord’s favor, they will negotiate a move-out date between the landlord and tenant. They may also schedule another hearing to determine how much the tenant owes the landlord.
If the tenant owes the landlord money, the judge may order the tenant to make a lump-sum payment or pay in installments. They may also order that the payments be made to the clerk’s office instead of to the landlord. If the judge allows payments to be made directly to the landlord, tenants should keep thorough records of every payment.
Once a landlord wins the eviction lawsuit, the evicted tenants will be required to move out by the date negotiated by the judge. If the tenant doesn’t move out by the move-out date, the landlord will take steps to execute the eviction. Execution is the process of actually removing the tenant from the property. To execute an eviction, the landlord will request a writ of possession from the court and give it to law enforcement. The sheriff will then remove the tenant if necessary.
Either party can appeal the judge’s decision. Appeals usually go to the Indiana Court of Appeals. In some counties, the appeal will go to the superior court. Appealing is a complicated process. If possible, tenants should contact an attorney to assist with any eviction appeal.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Indiana
The following tips can help you prepare for eviction proceedings in Indiana:
1. Prepare for the initial hearing.
If the landlord has already filed an eviction lawsuit, you need to prepare for an eviction hearing. To prepare, gather any and all documents, photos, videos, and any other evidence supporting any defenses or claims you want to make.
If the home was not in a liveable condition because the landlord refused to make repairs they agreed to make, it may be a good idea to have a municipal building inspector visit the property. The inspector can then issue a report about the conditions of the property, which the tenant can submit to the court.
2. Can’t make the hearing? Call the court immediately.
If you absolutely can’t attend the initial hearing, contact the court clerk and ask for a continuance or ask that the court be alerted that you won’t be attending. The number for the court should be listed on the summons. If you miss the hearing, you run a great risk of having a default judgment issued against you. If this happens, then the landlord will win the eviction lawsuit by default since you didn’t show up.
3. Keep a record of any efforts made to remedy a breach of the lease agreement.
You may decide to remedy the breach of the lease agreement that led to the eviction. For example, you might decide to pay the missing rent. If you do this, be careful about when you make these payments and to who.
If you decide to catch up on rent payments, whether before or after an eviction lawsuit has been filed, keep a record of each payment. You’ll want these records to show how much was paid, on which date, to who, and how.
4. Communicate proactively to avoid a lawsuit.
If you have a disagreement with your landlord regarding the rent or another term in the lease agreement, communicate with the landlord early on. By reaching out early, you may be able to set up an agreement to resolve the breach. For example, the landlord may be open to a repayment plan for missing rent.
Most importantly, early communication can prevent the disagreement from going on your record. Even just having an eviction lawsuit filed against you can impact your rental history and limit your future opportunities for housing. If your landlord does file an eviction, consider negotiating a settlement with them or their attorney. Sometimes, landlords will drop the case if you agree to move out by a certain time. This way, you won’t have an eviction on your record.
5. Use community resources.
Community resources in Indiana can help you navigate the eviction process and defend yourself in a lawsuit. Browse the resources below for more information.
6. Keep agreements in writing
Lastly, make sure that any agreement made with a landlord is in writing and is signed by both you and the landlord.
Tenant Resources in Indiana
Indiana Legal Services, Inc. (ILS) – ILS provides legal assistance to qualifying low-income Hoosiers. Legal aid attorneys can assist clients in eviction lawsuits and give legal advice in other landlord-tenant disputes.
Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI) – Discrimination in Indiana is prohibited by both federal and state law. Renters have protections under the federal Fair Housing Act and Indiana’s fair housing law. FHCCI provides resources and advocacy to Indiana renters experiencing housing discrimination.
Indianapolis Legal Aid Society (ILAS) – ILAS is a legal aid firm that provides legal help to residents of Indianapolis.
IN.gov COVID-19 Resource Page – The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted eviction filings and how landlords can evict tenants. This resource page keeps Indiana renters up to date on coronavirus protocols, eviction moratoriums, and rental assistance programs like emergency rental assistance.