City threatens nuisance suit against owner of troubled Nora apartment complex

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration on Tuesday threatened suit against the ownership of a Nora-area apartment complex that’s racked up hundreds of health and building code violations.

New Jersey-based owner Fox Lake AHF Inc. has less than a week to take remedial action at Lakeside Pointe, 9000 N. College Ave., and avoid the suit. On Tuesday, the city provided IBJ with a letter it sent to the not-for-profit firm advising it of the impending action.

“There must be real consequences for charging Indianapolis residents to live in unacceptable and uninhabitable conditions,” Hogsett said at a Tuesday news conference.

Indianapolis and the Marion County Public Health Department have given Fox Lake AHF Inc. until Jan. 31 to make some quick fixes or face a lawsuit under Indiana’s nuisance statute, in what officials called a “test case” for a 2018 interpretation of state law.

Senate Enrolled Act 558, which took effect in 2017, doesn’t let municipalities punish property owners or tenants for calling 911 in a range of circumstances. A 2018 Court of Appeals interpretation of the law went further by limiting local governments’ ability to use emergency calls as proof that a landlord is negligent.

If it files a suit, the city would be challenging the Court of Appeals interpretation.

“Our ability to file under the public nuisance statute and use this opportunity as a test case, to shine a light on what might be discrepancies or unclarity within state law, I think helps us in the short term with the living conditions at Lakeside Pointe,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett, “and then in the long term with our ability to hold bad actors accountable all over Marion County.”

Conditions at Lakeside Pointe have been on the decline for years. Residents have reported going weeks without hot water, air conditioning and heating; raw sewage leaks; and a dozen fires.

Officials said they’ve done their part to crack down on the owner. That includes 600-plus housing code violations from the health department since 2017. Fox Lake owes more than $225,000 so far for the violations, according to the city.

“To keep up with the level of complaints, a housing inspector visits this property every day,” said Paul Babcock, CEO of Health and Hospital Corporation. “… The Marion County Public Health Department has, on average, 60 cases in court at any given time related to the Lakeside Pointe apartment complex.”

The Department of Business and Neighborhood Services has also issued zoning and building violations, with demolition orders pending for two buildings “catastrophically damaged” by fires, according to the letter.

Still, it’s taken years to get here.

“I have been in Zoom rooms with leaders, 35 people, from the state, city, county [and] community level. So why has it been so hard to achieve a solution for Lakeside Pointe?” asked Claire Holba, leader of not-for-profit Patchwork Indy, during Tuesday’s press conference.

She recounted walking through a residential unit with raw sewage from the unit above leaking into a bathtub, and being on the phone with a young resident as a fire raged outside the back window.

Asked why this escalation has taken so long, Deputy Corporation Counsel Matt Giffin described the violation notices and other enforcement actions, then said, “I think we have been using the tools at our disposal. What we’re talking about today is bringing an additional tool to bear.”

An unresponsive owner hasn’t helped, Bennett added. IBJ has been unable over several months to contact Fox Lake, its parent company and executives connected to the group.

To avoid the lawsuit, officials want Fox Lake to address its outstanding housing code violations, particularly 19 emergency-level filings; promise to attend February demolition order hearings and comply when the orders are finalized; and enclose its dumpsters.

Officials said they’d go after Fox Lake to not only resolve its violations, but also to recover emergency response costs and legal fees.

“There must be consequences for the significant financial cost to Indianapolis taxpayers as a result of the owner’s failure to maintain properties,” Hogsett said. “Repeated IMPD, repeated IFD visits to Lakeside Pointe are costly to all of us.”

A mayor’s office spokesperson didn’t immediately have an estimate available.

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7 thoughts on “City threatens nuisance suit against owner of troubled Nora apartment complex

  1. Grandstanding from an idiot mayor. Severe problems back to at least 2017, but Pothole now threading a LAWSUIT in six days (play scary background music). Multiple lawsuits already filed and the property is in foreclosure, but you show ‘em Pothole! Other sources report a State lawsuit was blocked by a Marion County judge. It would be helpful to print that name and photo and maybe ask him/her/they to justify that decision.

    More importantly, what is the missing lever to solve this? We are constantly held hostage by absentee landlords. At the very least expedite foreclosure and seize assets.

    1. The missing lever is being blocked by the State Legislature. The Legislature is very pro-landlord. There are very few mechanisms for localities to actually hold landlords accountable and, when the cities do propose something, they’re pre-empted by the State. We saw this play out last year.

    2. Wesley H. – you’ll never see Chuck W. blame Republicans for anything because facts don’t matter to him. This story makes clear why previous attempts (including a recent suit by Todd Rokita) have all failed: a state law that favors owners over tenants no matter how dire the situation is for the latter. Maybe Chuck W. should move there and experience it for himself.

  2. If the complex has accumulated as many violations as reported, why politicize this and blame the mayor? It appears that management has ignored the enforcement of the housing code over a long period of time. If so, maybe it is time to get their attention. A.T. and Wesley H. are right about bias in the legislature protecting landlords. For example, Small Claims litigants in housing cases are almost always screwed. In respect to being in foreclosure the defendants can always count on the courts to allow cases to pend while lawyers file repetitive motions each of which is ruled on with less than diligence or any effort directed at case resolution. There is plenty of blame to go around for the delays if you’re into that sort of thing.

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