INDIANAPOLIS — A program launched by the Indiana Supreme Court last year was supposed to help cut down on eviction filings, but CBS4 found out it’s been slow to gain traction.
The fast track facilitation program, announced by Chief Justice Loretta Rush at a weekly COVID-19 press conference on August 26, gives landlords and tenants an alternative to court.
“The number one call … at 211 right now are people concerned about evictions and we want to be part of the solution,” Rush said at that press conference.
Either side can initiate a facilitation, which is voluntary and currently takes place in a remote setting like Zoom.
“Your goal is for the parties to reach an agreement and we’ll put that into writing and have them sign it,” said facilitator and Senior Judge Kathleen Lang.
Lang does not serve as a judge, but rather an impartial party who helps the two sides talk to each other. She volunteered for the program in part because she worried about a flood of evictions that could hit the state’s courts once a CDC moratorium ends on March 31.
“I sort of feel like everyone’s just holding their breath to see what happens,” Lang said.
That moratorium does not apply to every case. According to numbers provided by the Supreme Court, Indiana landlords filed more than 7,000 eviction cases in January and February 2021 alone.
Additional data provided by the court showed a slow rollout for the facilitation program. Less than 100 requests have been submitted per month, with only 14% moving forward to a facilitation.
Court administrators told CBS4 that the moratorium and a lack of awareness about the program contributed to the low numbers. The program is also voluntary and both sides must agree to a date in order to proceed.
Property manager Amber Coppler’s company HomeWorks, in northern Indiana, has used the program as intended by initiating a facilitation before filing an eviction. Coppler said her staff had participated in four facilitations and had two more scheduled soon.
In each case, Coppler pointed to a breakdown in communication between landlord and tenant as the reason a facilitation was requested. She said all facilitations so far had been successful in bringing both sides to the table to reach an agreement.
“Sometimes they don’t respond to us, they’re embarrassed, they don’t want to talk to us, whatever the case may be,” Coppler said. “(This program is) showing to the residents that we’re trying as well. We don’t want to just push them out.”
Coppler and Lang hoped spreading the word about the program would help garner more buy-in and encourage both landlords and tenants to request facilitations and participate in the process before an eviction is filed.
“I think we all know that there is going to be a day when these cases are going to really flood the courts,” Lang said. “I think we really need to get the word out.”
To request a facilitation or check on the status of a request, go to the Indiana Supreme Court website at the link here. You can also learn more about the program at the link here.