Citizens Energy Group on Thursday announced an agreement with landlord JPC Affordable Housing that is expected to prevent the disconnection of utilities at four large Indianapolis apartment projects with hundreds of tenants.
The utility said JPC will sell all four of its properties in Indianapolis by year’s end: Woods at Oak Crossing at 3120 Nobscot Drive, Covington Square 115 S. High School Road, Berkley Commons at 8201 Madison Ave., and Capital Place at 4100 Continental Court.
The apartment complexes were all built in the 1960s or 1970s and have a total of more than 1,400 units.
Citizens said the sale will “ensure” repayment of most of JPC’s past due utility-bill debt, now totaling more than $1.9 million.
“We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement to prevent utility disruption to the residents of the four JPC Affordable Housing properties while protecting our customer base from the full cost of JPC’s past due utility debt,” Jeffrey Harrison, president & CEO of Citizens Energy Group, said in written remarks.
The utility announced in July that it would disconnect water and natural gas services at the four complexes on Sept. 30 if the landlord did not pay its bills. Tenants at the properties pay for utilities as part of their rent, but JPC has a long history of upaid bills and safety violations.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett issued a statement at the time, urging the utility consider other options while it pursued legal action against the landlord along with the Indiana Attorney General’s office.
Citizens said, under the agreement, the proceeds from the sales will be used to compensate Citizens and other creditors. Citizens expects to receive about 80 percent of JPC’s past due amount. The agreement requires JPC to stay current on its monthly utility bills while the properties are for sale.
“Citizens has taken unprecedented efforts over the past two years to keep utilities connected at JPC-owned properties, including engaging in 19 payment arrangements with JPC, which were subsequently broken, and providing about two dozen monthly notices warning of potential disconnection,” Citizens said in it’s announcement. “In 2021, Citizens wrote off more than $240,000 of JPC’s past due utility debt after the sale of its Lakeside Pointe at Nora and Fox Club properties.”
Lakeside Pointe at Nora, 9000 N. College Ave., and Fox Club, 4401 S. Keystone Ave. were sold by JPC under threat of a city nuisance lawsuit to Genesis Housing Foundation Inc.
The settlement is also an attempt to rid the state of JPC Affordable Housing altogether. The defendants of the lawsuit have agreed to dissolve all entities by April 30, 2023 and are prevented from managing multifamily dwellings in the state for seven years, Attorney General Todd Rokita said at a press conference Thursday.
The details are more uncertain in how the not-for-profit affordable housing group, which operated under at least two names, will be prevented from reestablishing in the state under a new name.
“I can promise you this: under my administration, if we see a fact pattern play out that you’re describing, that they flip into a different LLC and that they’re back at us again doing this stuff, we will be in court,” Rokita said. “There’s no doubt that that will be my first priority.”
Parties at Thursday’s press conference agreed that Statehouse action is needed to prevent similar issues in the future. But, they disagreed what that legislation might look like.
The housing authorities are not-for-profit organizations, which Rokita said meant that the state legislature should tighten laws around not-for-profits that would better regulate entities like JPC Affordable Housing.
The city, through Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett, recommended the state could take action to allow renters to withhold rent when the owners aren’t holding up their end of the lease. Rokita said he didn’t have a position on the idea.
Hogsett said the city had established programs protecting renters, but they were rejected by the state.
“Those ideas were amended and eliminated by the General Assembly, but we still have in place a commitment to renters all over Indianapolis to help them whenever they run into problems with landlords or disputes.”
In July. Mark Bode, spokesman for the City of Indianapolis, told IBJ the city had attempted to gain more control over housing issues prior to the pandemic, including an ordinance requiring tenants to be provided a “Tenants Bill of Rights.”
“And then the General Assembly passed things stripping us of those powers,” Bode said.