Editorial: City’s move to sue apartment complex owner is warranted

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Mayor Joe Hogsett’s plans to sue a Nora-area apartment complex that’s racked up hundreds of health and building code violations is an appropriate move in the city’s ongoing effort to protect residents who are being exploited there.

This week, the city said New Jersey-based owner Fox Lake AHF Inc. has less than a week to take remedial action at Lakeside Pointe, 9000 N. College Ave., to avoid the suit. But there’s no real reason to expect that will happen.

As IBJ’s Leslie Bonilla Muñiz reports in a story on page 5A, conditions at Lakeside Pointe have been on the decline for years. Residents have reported raw sewage leaks, a dozen fires and going weeks without hot water, air-conditioning and heat.

The Marion County Public Health Department has issued 600-plus housing code violations since 2017. Fox Lake owes more than $225,000 so far for the violations, according to the city.

Consider this quote from Paul Babcock, CEO of Health and Hospital Corp.: “To keep up with the level of complaints, a housing inspector visits this property every day.” Every day.

And, he said, the Marion County Public Health Department has, on average, 60 cases in court at any given time related to the 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 a letter from the city.

Enough is enough.

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

But the city’s attempts to force the owner to improve the property could be for naught. That’s in part because state law that took effect in 2017 and interpreted by the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2018 makes it difficult for the city to use 911 calls from the property as evidence of the property owner’s negligence.

Suing the owners of Lakeside Pointe would likely challenge that ruling—and we applaud the city’s efforts to give that a try.

Of course, lawmakers could also step in and rewrite the 2017 law that restricted the ways cities could prove that a property has become a public nuisance. The Legislature could address the court decision by clarifying what’s allowed as evidence.

But that seems unlikely. Already, a Senate committee has killed a bill this year that would have created a tenants’ rights law that let renters withhold payment when their landlords fail to make necessary housing repairs. Forty-five other states have similar laws.

The move is unfortunate. The Lakeside Pointe situation shows how hard it can be to force landlords to make improvements, even when city agencies are putting pressure on them to act.

Of course, most landlord/tenant relationships are not nearly so difficult. But when they are, communities—and renters—need recourse. Lawmakers must figure out how to provide it.•


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One thought on “Editorial: City’s move to sue apartment complex owner is warranted

  1. Where is there affordable housing in Washington Township for these families to live in when the property is condemned? Is that why city is foot dragging?