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Legally preserving history

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Leaky roofs, broken windows, cracked pavement, or dangerous tree limbs are red flags indicating neglect of a piece of property or real estate.

But while the age of a building, and whether it is considered to have historic significance, might add a new level of legal nuance to disputes surrounding the preservation and upkeep of properties, some Hoosier lawyers and preservationists say that “preserving history” does not typically drive the legal remedy. Real estate, property negligence, and zoning laws are often utilized to preserve, restore, or protect sites having historic significance.

negligent-15col The Lodge apartment building at 829 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in downtown Indianapolis was built in 1905, and now it’s one of two historic sites the city legal department has filed a suit against because the owner let it become a public nuisance.. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“Just because something is historic, that doesn’t mean there’s any protection locally,” said Indianapolis attorney Tom Engle, who represents Indiana Landmarks and handles historic preservation cases throughout the state. “There’s some historic preservation statutes that can be used, but most often it comes down to building codes and local ordinances that make the difference on these properties that are vacant or not kept up.”

One of the most effective tools that Indiana Landmarks pioneered to help save historic sites is the use of receiverships, according to both Engle and Mark Dollase, the organization’s vice president of preservation services. They were first used almost a decade ago and have been used occasionally since then. The court can assign a receiver to determine and make improvements on a property, and the receiver then returns to the property owner for potential reimbursement, allowing the original property owner to retain the title. If that does not happen, the organization can work to get that deed through sheriff’s sale for ownership or resale down the road.

“Receiverships generally turn out the way you might want them to, but it never moves quickly enough,” Dollase said. “So as a result, you face market changes and what was true for a real estate sale when you started isn’t necessarily where you end up.”

That happened the first time the organization used a receivership about eight years ago to repair a historic building in Indianapolis. The structure collapsed from the weight of a snowstorm before Indiana Landmarks could preserve the building, he said. The group has used the receivership mechanism in other locations throughout the city, as well as sites in New Castle and one currently pending in South Bend.

“It’s a great tool, you just have to know it will take a while to get to other end. You have to plan an out, knowing who the end user might be from the start and if it’ll be worth investing the time and money when you might not get money back,” he said. “For us, that monetary loss can come with the knowledge that we’re meeting our mission and so it might be worth it.”

Aside from receiverships, Engle and Dollase said they have used architectural and conservation easements to offer protection for owners who want to retain a title to a property but also want the historic preservation protection. The easements typically result in a loss in value, but that can be worthwhile to preserve the property in the long run.

Targeting neglect

In Indianapolis, the city prosecutor filed two lawsuits April 11 against a pair of property owners who are accused of allowing their historically designated properties to become public eyesores or community dangers.

One suit targets James E. Chalfant and Chadwick Partners Inc., owners of the 1925 Chadwick Building at 1005 N. Pennsylvania St. A two-alarm fire inside the vacant 31,000 square foot building in January gutted what was left, and the city demolished the building following that fire. This was at least the third fire in the past decade, and the city asserts this final destructive fire and subsequent demolition was a “foreseeable result of unreasonable neglect” by the owners.

The second suit filed that same day targets Caroline Briggs, owner of the 1905 Lodge apartment building at 829 N. Pennsylvania St., on allegations that she unreasonably caused community damage by allowing that building to “become dilapidated, harbor vermin, serve as a temporary residence for vagrants, and contribute to blight.” As a result of those conditions, the health and safety of residents has been put in danger and the city has had to spend money in responding to those conditions, the suit says.

Specifically, the suits use Indiana Code § 36-7-11.1-12 in saying the owners failed to maintain real estate in a good state of repair and a safe condition and that both are nuisances. IC §32-30-6 allows for a civil action to abate or enjoin a nuisance. The Briggs suit also delves into various counts based on local code requiring that windows, exterior doors, and other parts of a historic building be adequately maintained.

Both filings are part of the city’s broader effort to crack down on negligent property owners. It is a joint effort by Indianapolis code enforcement and legal officials as the city acts as the enforcement official on behalf of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, which has jurisdiction over the two properties in the St. Joseph Historic District. In the Chadwick suit, the city wants to recoup the cost of emergency demolition and punitive damages, while in the Briggs suit, it is requesting injunctive relief, fines, and punitive damages.

“Repeat citations and enforcement actions against Briggs have failed to produce any improvements, and the deteriorated condition of Mr. Chalfant’s property unreasonably harmed the city and the citizens it serves by contributing to urban blight,” said city prosecutor Helen Marchal in the Office of Corporation Counsel.

This type of litigation isn’t used commonly, Marchal said, but it’s a resource that is always available if someone doesn’t resolve a negligent property issue or work with city officials to avoid it becoming a nuisance or danger.

Indianapolis attorney Bryce Bennett with Riley Bennett & Egloff found the city’s approach interesting, particularly in the demolished Chadwick situation where Indianapolis is attempting to recover money spent on combating the recent fire and building demolition. He worked in the 1990s with then-mayor and attorney Stephen Goldsmith to first use that legal move as a way to maintain properties and neighborhoods.

“We pioneered the whole idea of using public nuisance laws to go after absentee landlords and gain control of those properties for the community’s benefit,” he said. “That was very effective, and it sounds as though they’re using those same laws now and expanding it to recover money damages.”

In his legal work in these areas, Bennett pointed to his representation on the city market and other local historic preservation projects that delve into these many real estate and building issues.

“This is not the most exciting area of law, but there’s a lot of litigation that falls into it. You usually do have administrative remedies locally, but we found that litigation was more direct and effective and the most cost-effective.”

For those looking at the larger historical preservation picture, the end result of these lawsuits and legal challenges often isn’t the broader issue at play.

Dollase and Engle said they don’t see many lawsuits relating to historic preservation. They added that Indiana Landmarks tries to be judicious about using litigation, though it isn’t afraid to turn to the courts if needed.

“You don’t have a lot of caselaw in Indiana on these types of issues, since most of the time that’s not something that would go up on appeal,” Engle said. “That’s because it’s not about winning in court, and usually it’s not just a court battle that saves a historic building – it’s what comes after that in moving, demolishing, or adaptively reusing that property. Court may be a starting point, but it’s usually not the end of it.”•

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  • Historic Research
    save for the SJHN files
  • begin the new urbanism
    The best book out there on land use is "Geography of Nowhere" by James Howard Kunstler. Read it and weep! What a disaster our communities have become since ww II.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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