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LEGAL — Howard Superior III Judge Doug Tate indicates certain factors may be considered in eviction cases that occur due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

On March 19, Governor Eric Holcomb issued an executive order temporarily halting evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic. Eventually, that order will be lifted, and then the question remains as to how such issues will be dealt with.

According to Howard Superior III Judge Doug Tate, whose court handles all local eviction cases, it’s unclear how many eviction cases could mount once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. Regardless, statewide courts now are preparing for an eventual return to operations after the Indiana Supreme Court issued an order instructing courts to begin preparing plans for when courts return to their normal functions. When that happens, the courts will be left sorting out issues between property owners and renters.

“We don’t have any idea how many cases are out there where tenants haven’t been able to pay the rent where landlords are wanting to evict,” said Tate. “I have no idea what that number is. It could be substantial. It might be a normal everyday number. No cases have been allowed to be filed. They can’t even start the case. We aren’t going to know those numbers. I think we’ve got a plan for it to be a greater than normal number. If it’s less at least we’ve been prepared for the worst.”

As of now, unless further information leads to an extension of the governor’s order, courts will begin hearing cases again on May 18, including eviction filings. It’s that date the Indiana Supreme Court has lower courts preparing for a return to operations, but, of course, that could change. At that point, Tate said his court will be dealing with a backlog of cases, and the judge will be focusing on getting pressing cases resolved, which will include criminal cases that have had trials delayed due to the pandemic, criminal pleas, and eviction cases.

“There will be a time we have to get over that hump,” said Tate. “It will be tough to get over that backlog. For our court the biggest, most pressing issues for the parties involved are the eviction cases.”

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Tate couldn’t discuss specifics with cases that may come down the pipe, as he can’t prejudge, but he expected that special considerations may be given for involved parties that resemble those that were prevalent during the recession.

“When we had the mortgage crisis, there were special provisions put in place where courts were not foreclosing,” said Tate. “They were coming up with alternative arrangements for persons to address issues related to failure to pay on mortgages. There’s got to be some concept in there that we can use to address the issues of evictions.”

Most notably, the judge said he’d like to consider factors such as loss of employment or other issues that arose specifically due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on the economy.

“Without giving any indication as to how I might rule on a case, I am certainly going to give consideration to, was a tenet on default on a lease before March 19, 2020, and is a tenant’s failure to pay rent, is it related to a job loss or other factor that came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?” said Tate. “Those are the things we’ve got to consider. If that’s the case, I think it will be incumbent on the court to find alternative options to just putting people out on the street.”