‘Our safety means something’: Fight continues after judge denies AG’s request for immediate help at troubled apartment complex

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INDIANAPOLIS — A Marion County judge recently delivered a significant setback for tenants who live in two problematic Indianapolis apartment complexes, but Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita wants to reassure them, the fight isn’t over yet.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit in July against Aloft Mgt, LLC, the property manager of Lakeside Pointe at Nora apartments, and Fox Lake AHF, Inc., a nonprofit that owns both Lakeside Pointe at Nora and Fox Club apartments.

The suit accused the pair of “allowing the Fox Club and Lakeside Pointe apartment complexes in Indianapolis to fall into egregious disrepair, endangering the health and welfare of thousands of residents.” It said this neglect and mismanagement led to fires, a lack of heat and air conditioning, water damage, mold, broken windows, and other problems that resulted in poor living conditions.

“Somebody needs to come in here and do something or close them down because somebody in here’s gonna die and it’s not just gonna be one person. This whole building’s gonna go up in flames just like this one,” said resident Lora Driscoll, as she pointed at a building, which sits unrepaired after a fire months ago.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, Fox Lake has received more than 600 Notices of Violation (NOV) from the Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) since 2017 and as of July, owed more than $100,000 in court costs and fines.

“The property at Lakeside Pointe has been repeatedly inspected and continues to fail to meet basic habitability standards because of a failure to repair or remedy violations,” the lawsuit reads.

As a result of the allegations, compiled during a lengthy investigation, Rokita’s office asked a judge to consider a request for a receiver to be appointed to take control of the property management companies’ finances and work to right the wrongs against residents.

“It’s unfair for entities and businesses to claim a nonprofit status saying that they’re going to deliver these kind of services and then fall so flat on their face,” Rokita told FOX59 in an interview Wednesday.

In a preliminary order on Sep. 1, Marion Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Dietrick denied the request to appoint a receiver, and instead, ordered the bank and property owner to mediation within 120 days and temporarily suspended the court proceedings on the matter.

Rokita said finding out who the people allegedly responsible for the problems are, was the ‘easy part,’ but that getting the process going to kickstart relief for those impacted, is another conversation.

“You’re seeing that play out right now even in the Marion County court system, which instead of granting our request for receivership, which would’ve gotten immediate, direct help, they decided that the bank and the owner of the property should mediate it first.”

Unless things move virtual again, the parties in the lawsuit will now come to the table, quite literally, and work to mediate solutions. The Indiana Attorney General’s Office will also have representation there.

“While the bank is there to protect the bank and the money it lent to the owner, and the owner is there to try and protect the owner, unless we’re there, your Attorney General, no one is directly representing the interest of that group of people,” said Rokita.

“At least those people’s voice and the taxpayer’s voice are still gonna be heard in the room, but day-to-day, probably with — especially with mediation — probably not major improvements,” he shared.

Rokita said he respects the judge and the job he needs to do, and that his office welcomes mediation, but encourages all residents remain vigilant of the real conditions on the grounds of the complexes.

“We’re going to go down this road now for a while,” he said.

Residents, advocates and the city respond

The news of more waiting is being met with disappointment, among other emotions, by residents of the north side apartment complex, advocates who work with tenants, and representatives with the city.

“Nobody cares and that’s exactly how we feel in here. Nobody cares about what’s going on in here,” said Driscoll. “We need help in here and it shouldn’t be taking this long and require this much frustration to get the help that we need in here.”

She said she is grateful for the actions of Rokita and his counsel at the Attorney General’s Office but hopes the judge overseeing the case will hear tenants’ cries for help before someone is killed in a fire or in the conditions, she said are putting lives at risk every day.

“I would like to ask that judge to please come stay the night at my house. Come and spend a week at my house and see how safe you feel,” said Driscoll.

Time again, residents at Lakeside Pointe at Nora apartments have spoken out, expressing concern for their safety and health due to the conditions of the property. Many have requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

“Somebody needs to do something and nobody in here has allowed enough voice, obviously, for anything to get done because we’re still suffering,” said Driscoll.

She said she wants to be a voice for many of her neighbors, who feel they don’t have one.

Driscoll said, “You’re constantly leaving messages asking for help. Sometimes you get it, majority of times you don’t.”

According to Indiana Smoke Detector Law, all rental units must have at least one functional smoke detector installed outside of each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms, however, Driscoll said, she doesn’t, and it’s been that way since she moved in almost two years ago to the north side complex.

“I don’t have a fire detector,” she said, “I just went today and bought one to install in my own apartment.”

She said no rent payment seems to be enough to encourage management to answer a request for maintenance.

“I’ve never seen maintenance. I think I’ve seen maintenance one time and that was when I moved in here, other than that, I’ve never seen a maintenance man,” said Driscoll.

Adding insult to injury, Driscoll said her rent just increased and it’s not because of the uninvited guests like mice, roaches, and gnats taking up occupancy in her unit.

“I have to live here and if I have to make a lot of noise, scream, shout and holler and cause a scene, then that’s what I’ll do if that’ll get somebody here to help.”

Aside from conditions in her unit she described as deplorable, Driscoll said her biggest concern is the number of fires the complex has seen since she moved in. She fears it will take someone dying in a fire for the complex’s owners to listen.

Although several were determined to be accidental, three fires around this time last year were believed to be intentionally set inside vacant units, according to a letter sent to residents by management.

“Please we need help in here. Our safety means something,” said Driscoll, as she became choked up. “It means something to me.”

Rokita added, “It’s terrible. Especially for those that are paying rent. They work hard, we all work hard, and we should be working hard and then you give an ever-increasing percentage of your hard-earned dollars for a domicile.”

According to Rokita, it should be people’s first priority to have a roof over their heads, but questions whether the residents at these complexes really have a whole roof.

Rhetorically, Rokita asked, “They might be out of the rain, but what good is that if the lights don’t work, the fire detectors don’t work, the plumbing’s backed up, if it’s rodent-infested?”

“That core to human beings is to be able to provide for yourself and your family. That’s not happening here and as long as they’re paying rent, that’s no fault of their own. No one should have to live under those kinds of conditions, and you certainly can’t sleep.”

While it’s not certain whether receivership will be granted down the road by the judge, Rokita said they will stay on top of this and continue advocating for Hoosiers.

A spokesperson for the city issued a statement to FOX59 regarding the judge’s decision, which read:

“The court’s recent decision is incredibly unfortunate and blunts one of the best remaining tools to ensure ownership accountability and housing stability for Lakeside Pointe and Fox Club residents. The City will continue to work with community advocates and state and local officials to explore available options to act in the interest of these residents within the strict limits of state statute.”

Mark Bode, Spokesperson, City of Indianapolis

Debi Alexander, a volunteer with the Nora Neighborhood Ambassadors, which works to support residents with advocacy and maintenance needs, among other services, shared a statement with FOX59 Wednesday.

We are disappointed that our neighbors are being mistreated and are unprotected by Indiana law. Our goal is affordable housing with a win-win of equitable rights for both the tenant and the landlords. At this point there are long standing housing violations that do not support a healthy community at Lakeside Pointe and therefore Nora as a whole, and ownership must be held accountable to ongoing change.

Debi Alexander, Volunteer, Nora Neighborhood Ambassadors

Alexander said the problems at the complex pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic, which is clear by the hundreds of violations dating back years.

Rokita also shared, although the litigation process started in July, it followed a lengthy investigation by his office into years of these claims.

“The thing with investigations, and all of them, is that number one, if you were going to be honest about it, and we are, you’ve got to go where the facts take you,” said Rokita, “in this case, the facts took us right to our alleged culprits, who are out of state.”

The complex’s out-of-state owner, JPC Charities, obtained property tax exemption in 2006 by claiming it offered charitable services in the form of affordable housing, but that was revoked for the second time in a year, back in February after the failure to remedy ‘deplorable’ conditions.

Board members with the Marion County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals revoked the tax exemption and sent the owners a tax bill totaling more than $400,000.

“Fox Lake has continued to waste assets or misappropriate funds to purposes yet unknown, as it has collected rental payments from residents without addressing the basic purpose of providing housing,” Rokita said in the lawsuit.

In June, Fox Lake placed residents at risk of having their water shut off by failing to make a payment toward a $1 million bill to Citizens Energy Group.

The combined outstanding utility charges for water and sewer at Lakeside Pointe and Fox Club exceeded $1.2 million owed to Citizens Energy Group as of June 22 and, “the utility accounts continue to be in significant arrears,” documents show.

In late June, the utility company and Fox Lake made a payment arrangement to avoid possible water shut off at Lakeside Pointe.

FOX59 reached out to Citizens Energy Group on Sep. 8, inquiring about the current status of the arrangement and how much money the complex’s owners owe to the company.

The following statement was shared by a spokesperson:

“The apartment complexes on College Avenue and Keystone are not currently subject to utility disconnection. Company policy prohibits the release of any data regarding a customer’s account.”

Spokesperson, Citizens Energy Group

Legal recourse and tenant’s rights

Rokita said, as the mediation occurs, tenants should continue to pay their rent to the best of their ability.

He also encourages people to seek legal help, either individually, or as a group, and recommends seeking assistance from a city legal organization or nonprofit that may be able to represent tenants in these situations.

“We’re gonna stay on it. They’re free to call our office, not just for updates, but if they’ve got more information to add to our file, something particular that happened,” said Rokita.

For families receiving housing assistance, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office said those tenants should report suspected fraud, waste or mismanagement of housing programs to the Indianapolis Housing Agency Hotline at (866) 411-8514 or via email at Fraud@IndyHousing.org.

To submit a complaint with the Marion County Public Health Department, you can visit this link here, and follow the prompts or call (317) 221-2141.

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