State lawmakers push for stronger rights for tenants, namely Cedar Glen

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A deadly house fire just months after a failed safety inspection, bed bugs at Karl King tower, and a lack of hot water at Cedar Glen are just some of the issues ABC57 has tracked recently, causing Indiana lawmakers to call for stiffer regulations on landlords.

On Wednesday, ABC57 discovered through a Public Records Request that there have been at least 35 code complaints at Cedar Glen apartments over the last year through South Bend 311.

The most common issues were no hot water and no heat.

Now, state lawmakers are directly pointing to the troubled complex as an example why tenants should be able to hold problem landlords accountable.

“You want to leave but then you can’t, you can’t afford to go anywhere else, so you stay but then when you go to pay your rent, you feel like you shouldn’t be paying your rent,” contemplates Todd Bogunia, a Cedar Glen resident.

When Bogunia pays rent, it can sometimes feel like a rip off.

In the past two years, he's added up seven months he’s had to live at Cedar Glen apartments with no hot water or heat, or both at once.

Bogunia's rights as a tenant, being provided with running hot and cold water, heat, and electricity aren't always met.

“What we observe is that tenants have these rights to live in a habitable dwelling, but often don’t have the know-how or ability to enforce that right,” explains Andrew Thomas, a Housing Resource Attorney with Indiana Legal Services.

Thomas oversees cases like this as an attorney with Indiana Legal Services.

He advises always bringing up housing issues with property managers to make sure both sides are accountable before pursuing a case.

However, the system in the Hoosier state isn’t exactly on the tenant’s side when it comes to keeping landlords and property managers accountable.

“I really wish that there were laws put into place to where if something like this does happen, we don’t have to pay until it’s fixed,” Bogunia admits.

Indiana is one of only five states that forces tenants to still pay rent when repairs aren’t made.

“In many states, you can in some way as a tenant withhold your rent if there’s a problem; say ‘Hey, I’m not going to pay my rent, or I’m going to put my rent into this account until you fix it.’ That is not something you can do in Indiana,” Thomas explains.

At the statehouse, there is a push for stronger rights for tenants and stricter penalties for landlords.

Local representatives and senators are sounding the alarm and calling on legislative action in response to the conditions specifically at Cedar Glen.

“Whoever out there is fighting for us, I just want to say thank you so much, from all of us,” Bogunia says on behalf of Cedar Glen residents.

State Senator David Niezgoski sent a statement Wednesday, calling the issues at Cedar Glen "blatant neglect".

Along with asking for stronger laws on landlords, he’s asking the Indiana Attorney General to make safe housing a priority.

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