INDIANAPOLIS — The calendar on the wall of Toni Owens’ apartment lists in big letters “MOVE OUT DAY” at the end of April to mark the conclusion of eleven years living at Berkley Commons on the city’s southside.
“I’m out of here. I’m moving. Can’t wait. Can’t wait,” she said, surrounded by packed boxes. “I just don’t feel safe here at all and I just don’t feel like they’re even professional enough to operate.”
“I just feel like something isn’t right about this company.”
Neither do the City of Indianapolis, the Indiana Attorney General or Citizens Energy Group which announced a three-pronged legal attack aimed at Berkley Common IN, LLC, and JPC Affordable Housing Foundation, Inc., intended to force the New Jersey-based company to pay off $1.3 million in overdue utility bills and reimburse the City $850,000 it paid to keep the water turned on at Berkley Commons during a previous three-day disconnection in February.
Mayor Joe Hogsett said the welfare of 1200 households at Berkley Commons, Capital Place Apartments and the Woods at Oak Crossing are at stake.
“Today we stand united ahead of what would otherwise be a mass eviction on a scale yet unseen in this community.”
Citizens Energy Group President & CEO Jeffrey Harrison said the utility may be forced to again turn off the water to residents, whose utility costs are folded into their monthly rent payments, because the landlord is not making good on multiple back payment agreements.
“If we do need to disconnect and issue a disconnect notice, we will notify those residents,” Harrison said. “We are looking at trying to give them enough time and enough support and help to allow them to find homes elsewhere, so we are looking at somewhere around thirty days if a disconnect notice were to be executed.”
Harrison said one solution would be a court order to force the property owner to set aside a portion of rent revenues into a fund to pay utility bills.
“Citizens is requesting creation of a constructive trust over each of the defendant’s funds being collected from debts over water, sewer and natural gas utility services.”
Indiana Attorney General Chief Counsel Scott Barnhart told Fox 59 News that in early May his office of Consumer Protection could seek an injunction forcing the landlord to temporarily take corrective action pending a permanent resolution.
Hogsett said he hoped the trio of lawsuits would force JPC to divest itself of the troubled properties, just as city pressure led to the sale of the owner’s Lakeside Pointe at Nora complex in early March.
Don Hauser isn’t waiting for a change of owners. He’s putting in a change of address and moving out of Berkley Commons at the end of the month.
“They’re defrauding the residents of all three complexes,” he said. “There’s been no guarantee that they’ve been paying the bill. There was no guarantee or mention of them paying the bill or paying the city back for what the city dished out to get the water turned back on.
“This is America. How can this happen? How is it allowed and why is this allowed?”
I went to the office at Berkley Commons to ask that question.
I didn’t get an answer.