Hoosiers struggling to pay the bills have a new option to help keep them off the streets.
It's a legal helping hand that will bridge the gap between tenants and landlords.
The Indiana Supreme Court Wednesday launched the Landlord and Tenant Settlement Conference, a free solution for renters to help them reach a resolution with their landlords before an eviction or foreclosure case is filed.
After losing her job during the pandemic, and dealing with months of economic uncertainty, one Evansville renter was desperate for a solution that would allow her to pay her bills and to keep her home.
"I've been praying, and I pray a lot, that the COVID stuff ends really soon," Nancy Byrd said.
With the expiration on federal moratoriums earlier this month, she said the threat of losing her home is looming closer.
"It's really hard when you have these bills and you don't have an income but you're trying and hoping really hard that somebody opens a door for you that will help you be able to save yourself."
She said this new program could be the solution she's been praying for.
Tenants and landlords will work directly with facilitators -- including registered mediators, attorneys and judges -- to help them through rental disputes.
As the Coronavirus persists, and with it a backlog of eviction and foreclosure cases, Chief Justice Loretta Rush stressed the importance of the program:
"The increase in eviction and foreclosure cases requires swift action. This program is a no cost opportunity for landlords and tenants to resolve their dispute outside of court with a neutral facilitator. Possibilities include negotiated payment plans, back payments, or move-out dates—without the legal costs and stigma of an eviction. In the best of outcomes, more tenants will stay in their homes and more landlords will receive rent. That’s a win for the parties and the community."
It's an opportunity Evansville leaders said will go long way in preventing a homeless crisis.
"I think that everybody wants to see that people stay in their homes, stay in their apartments, have their utilities stay on," Evansville Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer said. "So anything that we can do to help connect people to those resources we want to do."
For renters like Byrd who are still struggling during the pandemic, this new option could help to avoid those worse case scenarios.
"You may be able to work out some kind of payments or something with the landlord to where you're able to save your home," Byrd said. "Because once it hits the courts, it's too late -- the eviction is going through."
Landlords or tenants who want to request facilitation can do so at courts.in.gov/facilitate using the Fast-Track Facilitation application.