INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of residents at four Indianapolis apartment complexes are on the brink of having their water shut off.
They're at wit's end with the property owners.
"Everyone is very frustrated," said Brittany Ryan.
Brittany Ryan's lease agreement shows water is supposed to be included with rent, but according to the utility company, Citizens Energy, the bills have gone unpaid since February 2021.
More than $1.7 million is owed.
"We thought that everything was being paid. We thought that we were paying them and they were paying our bills," Tony Thompson, a resident at Berkley Commons, said. "I just don't understand it."
Citizens Energy spokesman Dan Considine says the debt is growing around $100,000 per month.
"We've never had a situation like this," Considine said.
Considine says payment arrangements have been broken several times.
"Frankly they were unresponsive," he said.
If a payment isn't made by Sept. 30, water at all four properties and gas will be disconnected.
Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett says the units will be unlivable.
"[The number of] households potentially impacted is the scope or scale of a natural disaster if they were all to be displaced at one time," Bennett said.
This isn't the first time these residents have faced disconnection.
In February, water was shut off at Berkely Commons and Capital Place Apartments because unpaid bills topped $850,000.
The city stepped in and took care of it.
WRTV asked Bennett if the city could step in again.
"It's not this time; the bill is just too big," Bennett said.
Tax filings and records from the attorney general's office show the complexes are owned and operated by multiple nonprofits serving low-income families under the same management.
The nonprofits are under the names JPC Affordable Housing Foundation, JPC Charities, Berkely Commons LCC and Pure Charity Fund. WRTV Investigates found Pure Charity Fund was shut down by the state of Georgia in 2015.
The chairman and board directors are listed as Oron Zarum of New Jersey; Thomas Kern and Tracey Hughey of Columbus, Ohio; Tony Shir of Chicago; and Jason Cook of Ohio.
WRTV investigates has been searching for the landlords and directors involved.
After months of no responses, we traveled 170 miles to Columbus, Ohio to get answers.
We showed up at the front door of Thomas Kern's home.
JPC's latest tax filings, which are from 2018 and 2019, list Kern as the treasurer, secretary and director.
After an hour of talking with him, he agreed to an interview with WRTV Investigates.
WRTV: "How did we get in this situation?"
Kern: "I can't tell you how. I can tell you that it's absolutely unfortunate and I think everyone is saddened by this."
WRTV: "Residents are paying their bills, but where is the money going?"
Kern: "I don't know. Unfortunately, I wasn't on the, I haven't been on the board for years. Since 2018."
Kern denies responsibility. He says he resigned from the nonprofits' board in 2018.
WRTV: You are listed as a director and officer on the board. what is your involvement?
Kern: I am not on the board and have not been. I believe my resignation was in 2018. As far as my involvement, I have none other than after I got sued I started watching from afar and my heart goes out to the residents.
WRTV: "You're saying you have no involvement into bills going unpaid?"
Kern: "No. I have no involvement in that."
Kern told us he was working with the Attorney General's Office to clear his name.
He presented the AG's office with his resignation letter stating he was only a volunteer and was not a board member.
The AG's office dismissed him from the lawsuit along with Hughey, Shir and Cook.
Kern says he feels bad for the residents involved and said he hopes they will be taken care of.
WRTV: Indianapolis residents are hurting, what can you say to them right now?
Kern: Stay strong. Keep praying, and trust that the folks with the ability and resources are looking out for you. And I truly believe that, that anyone that would be involved in this situation is doing everything they can so that those folks would be okay.
While in Columbus, we stopped by a business address listed for JPC only to find legal advisors who denied comment.
Zarum has yet to be reached for comment.
WRTV Investigates found this is happening not only in Indianapolis, but at apartment complexes in these neighboring cities tied to the same nonprofits.
"It's beyond frustrating. It's angering to the city and to the mayor that we have this out of state entity that is not responsive, and doesn't seem to care that they're not responsive on behalf of the tenants that they're supposed to be serving," Bennett said.
The mayor's office, attorney general's office and Citizens Energy are suing the nonprofits and alleged board members.
The AG's office calls the nonprofits "a years- long scheme from the backs of low income tenants."
In the meantime, tenants like Brittany Ryan and her four children along with Brenda Jones and her 6-year-old just want the bills to paid and to feel secure in their homes.