INDIANAPOLIS — Mayor Joe Hogsett, Attorney General Todd Rokita's Office and Citizens Energy Group are announcing repercussions against delinquent property owners of three southside apartment complexes.
This comes after months of unpaid utility and gas bills at Capital Place and Berkley Commons.
Citizens Energy is seeking repayment of more than $1.3 million for past due utility bills and other expenses. Three separate lawsuits are being filed and residents are at risk again of losing their water.
You can watch the news conference below.
The past-due bills total $344,217 from Berkley Commons IN LLC, which operates Berkley Commons Apartments at 8201 Madison Avenue in Indianapolis. The utility also is seeking repayment of past due bills totaling $956,792 from JPC Affordable Housing Foundation, which operates the Capital Place Apartments at 4100 Continental Court in Indianapolis, and the Woods at Oak Crossing at 3120 Nobscot Drive in Indianapolis.
Citizens says both groups have "consistently failed" over the past year to make payments and established payment arrangements have been broken on several occasions.
“We are hopeful this legal action against Berkley Commons LLC and JPC Affordable Housing will result in the repayment of past-due bills and payment of future bills, so residents of the apartment complexes have continued access to utility service without our remaining customers having to bear the cost of the apartment owners’ unpaid utility bills,” said Jeffrey Harrison, President & CEO of Citizens.
Water is supposed to be included in tenants rent at both complexes. Gas is included at Capital Place.
In February, water was cut off at both complexes forcing hundreds of tenants to be without.
Less than 24 hours later, the mayor's office stepped in to help, paying around $850,000 to get service restored.
The city used taxpayer dollars and promised it would hold the property owners accountable. Another $850,000 of unpaid bills have accumulated between the three properties, according to Citizens Energy.
Hogsett says the complexes put the well being of residents in jeopardy.
"Ultimately our aim is to hold these property owners accountable using every available tool to keep residents in their homes and clear a path for responsible ownership," Hogsett said. "Failure of a landlord to pay utility bills leads to a stop in service ... if that unit as a residence has no water, the health department has no choice but to close it down."
Citizens Energy says payment arrangements have been broken several times and worries the city will be forced to step in again to foot more unpaid bills in the future.
Tenants who have experienced problems during the course of their lease are encouraged to file a consumer complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's office.
Tenants like Brenda Jones have shown us months of her receipts for gas and water.
She questions where the money is going and hopes this legal action will force repayment.
"It is very important because our apartment management needs to be held accountable. I'm sure if their families lived here, they would never let it get shut off," said Jones.
Tenants are still paying their bills and questioning where their money is going. WRTV asked Citizens Energy about that and the answer we received was "We have no idea."
The AG's office says it's a part of the investigation but says it's "complicated and very complex."
To prevent this from happening again, Citizens Energy is also requesting creation of a constructive trust over each of the property owners funds being collected from tenants for water, sewer and gas utility services.
When asked if the city would step in to help again, Mayor Joe Hogsett said the taxpayers cannot be expected to cover a landlord's negligence and he hopes these lawsuits will push the owners to either pay the bill or sell the properties to someone reliable.
Attorney General Todd Rokita says one lawsuit asserts that JCP has not performed their legal duties as a nonprofit and failed to address dangerous and unlawful conditions at apartment complexes on the southside and westside of Indianapolis.
“There are many stakeholders and residents who are impacted by these allegations. The lawsuits filed by my office, Citizens, and the City will allow for the swift and efficient resolution of these important issues,” said Attorney General Rokita. “I am grateful for the hard work of Chase Haller, deputy attorney general, and the collaboration with Citizens and the City, in pursuing this solution.”
By taking these legal actions, Hogsett says it's preventing a mass eviction that the city has never seen.