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 the Indianapolis Business Journal 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 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 of Indiana 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 AHF, its parent company and executives connected to the group.

To avoid the lawsuit, officials want Fox Lake AHF 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 AHF 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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