Residents of the besieged Lakeside Pointe à Nora apartment complex say they have lived with boarded up windows, broken glass bottles strewn across the parking lot, cockroaches in apartments, mold in the air vents, a lack of heat and air conditioning and fire damage.
Now, a lawsuit by Attorney General Todd Rokita against the property management companies behind this complex and one in a similar strait called Fox Club could end the dangerous and potentially illegal conditions.
“At this point, I’m surprised the apartments are still open because no one should be living there,” said Malik Plummer, 26, who lived at Lakeside Pointe from September 2018 to June 2020. “I hope for people. over there. that at this point either they close or they renovate and build better conditions for the people who still live there.
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Aloft Management and Fox Lake, a New York limited liability company and a Delaware nonprofit, respectively, were named as defendants in the lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court on Tuesday for “pattern of unlawful conduct. including the failure to maintain even the basic rules of habitability standards, ”according to a press release issued by Rokita’s office.
In addition to Lakeside Pointe, the companies also operate the Fox Club apartment complex in South Indianapolis, near South Keystone Avenue and Carson Avenue. The lawsuit alleges that the companies are working “under the guise of operating a non-profit organization whose mission is to” provide low-rental housing “but have allowed it to fall into” glaring disrepair. “.
“When property owners and managers fail to meet their fundamental obligation to provide tenants with safe and secure housing, my office will not hesitate to take action to hold them accountable and seek justice for the Hoosiers who have been wronged, ”a said Attorney General Rokita, a Republican, in the press release.
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As part of the lawsuit, the Attorney General requested that a receiver be appointed to take control of the finances of the property management companies, remove the board of directors and “attempt to right the wrongs committed by Fox Lake and Aloft against the Indianapolis residents, ”according to the press release.
Lakeside Pointe and Fox Club management offices had not responded to requests for comment at the time of posting.
The attorney general’s office can hold businesses to account becauseit has the power to oversee non-profit corporations.
Since 2017, Fox Lake has received more than 600 violation notices from the Marion County Public Health Department for poor conditions, including a failure to provide hot water, air conditioning and heating, as well as a failure mold, plumbing and wastewater treatment. problems, missing screens and garbage, according to the lawsuit.
“Fox Lake continued to waste assets or embezzle funds for purposes as yet unknown, as it collected rents from residents without meeting the basic purpose of providing housing,” the lawsuit says.
“This move will help protect residents while offering hope for better management of the property,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat. “Ensuring tenants stay in stable housing will continue to be our top priority, and we are grateful to community stakeholders for their long-standing advocacy on behalf of their neighbors. “
Democratic lawmakers who represent parts of Indianapolis, including Carey Hamilton, Fady Qaddoura and Justin Moed, have also welcomed the lawsuit.
“” Over the past few months, I have worked closely with community groups and the attorney general’s office to bring justice to the more than 400 families living in the apartment complex, “Qaddoura said in the press release. .
Tenants surprised to find a complex ‘mess’
Haleigh Johnson, 18, and her boyfriend moved into apartments at Lakeside Pointe in January and were shocked to find the place “messy,” she said. Cockroaches were crawling on the floor, she said, the bathroom was dirty and the floor looked dirty, like it hadn’t been cleaned in ages.
Her boyfriend has asthma and has had to go to the emergency room three times since they moved to Lakeside Pointe in January, she told IndyStar. She said she thinks it’s because the apartment’s air vents are moldy and make him sick.
Over the past year, residents have suffered from fires after fires. At least four fires broke out at Lakeside Pointe from September 2020 to June 2021, according to the lawsuit. From the window of his $ 500-per-month apartment, Johnson has witnessed three fires in the past six months. The pool pavilion caught fire twice a few feet from its front door, most recently on June 12, and is now charred, abandoned, an eyesore.
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In June, the Fox Lake management company told residents it was at risk of having the water cut in August because it failed to bill Citizens Energy Group for $ 1 million.
Management at Lakeside Pointe is notoriously poor at responding to maintenance requests, several residents told IndyStar. Johnson said he ordered the air conditioning unit to be repaired two weeks ago, but nothing has been done. They had to buy their own window air conditioner because their three cats were panting from overheating. The management company told Johnson it would send a pest control to exterminate the cockroaches a week ago, but no one showed up on Tuesday afternoon.
“We want to move,” she said, but is checking to see if they can terminate the lease earlier at no additional cost.
The city has “turned a blind eye” for years
For some residents and former residents, this trial has come too late. Malik Plummer, who lived in Lakeside Pointe, said he was frustrated with the time it took for the city to act.
“The apartment complex had unacceptable living conditions for people,” he said. In winter, his apartment’s heating would go off for weeks or a month at a time and he had to bundle up in sweaters. “I find it hard to understand how the city didn’t know or didn’t want to do anything about it.”
“It has been going on for years and years now,” said Deja Plummer, Malik’s wife. Dozens of desperate and enraged Google critics left comments slamming the respective property listings for cockroach infestations, leaks and mold eight years ago. “It was a cry for help. And no one said or did anything about it.
The two moved into the 40-acre, 588-unit apartments at Lakeside Pointe together in September 2018. She said she immediately noticed how horrible the conditions were. She saw several cockroaches rushing into her apartment, the air conditioning was not working and the lights went out within two days of moving in. Rent for the studio was around $ 500.
“Everything that could have gone wrong with this apartment has gone wrong with this apartment,” she said. She broke her lease earlier and moved in December.
“I think the city and state deliberately turned a blind eye to low income apartments because if anything happened in Carmel, Fishers, roads that needed to be paved, things would be done quickly,” he said. Plummer said. “Because it’s a low-income apartment, they think if they don’t like it, they’ll leave. “
A large proportion of Lakeside Pointe residents are Hispanic and Burmese immigrants, many of whom do not speak English. Malik Plummer said one of the factors as to why management neglected the horrific conditions residents face for years is that non-English speaking residents cannot easily defend themselves.
The lawsuit notes that residents are largely immigrants and refugees “who have repeatedly reported problems for Aloft to go weeks or months without vital repairs.”
Malik Plummer finally moved from his Lakeside Pointe apartment last June to a one-story house in the east that he bought with his wife after years of saving rent, a move he he described as a milestone. Now, he hopes the lawsuit will address housing injustices faced by those who still live there, especially those for whom apartment complexes are all they can afford.
“I was both relieved and sad because I wanted to be able to do more for my neighbors and the people I knew who were still in these conditions,” he said.
Questionable ownership structure
The lawsuit claims the apartment complexes are run by a non-profit organization called JPC Charities which has been the subject of several lawsuits and reports of property mismanagement across the country. In one, a Georgian jury found the association’s parent company, PF Holdings, Inc., responsible for the death of a 62-year-old man who died after his apartment hit 98 degrees when the air conditioning unit broke down and has not been repaired.
The lawsuit alleges that the Lakeside Pointe complex as well as Fox Club Apartments in Indianapolis are being used as collateral for the repayment of a $ 32 million mortgage loan owed to Silverpeak Argentic, a New York-based real estate finance company, by JPC Charities.
In short: the rents of the inhabitants who had lived in squalid conditions for years were going to repay a loan.
“I can find no other word than ‘angry’ and ‘baffled’ that people are subjected to these conditions to repay a loan and that the lives of these people are affected in this way is unacceptable,” he said. he declares.
“Throughout its Lakeside Pointe ownership, Fox Lake has used Aloft’s property management services to manage the day-to-day operations of the complex,” the lawsuit said.
The state alleges that Aloft operates real estate transactions without the license required by law and that the two companies “are grossly negligent in the maintenance of Lakeside Pointe to the serious detriment of its residents.”
Until recently, Fox Lake was a registered non-profit organization that received tax exemptions for allegedly providing low-income housing, according to its IRS Form 990.
The trial comes just four months after Republican lawmakers voted for a bill, Bill 148 entered in the Senate, which would significantly erode the protection of tenants and their rights by prohibiting Indianapolis from regulating tenant-landlord relations. Among the protections eviscerated by Republican lawmakers is Indianapolis’ ability to hold retaliatory owners accountable for fines.
Contact Ko Lyn Cheang at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @kolyn_cheang.