Real Estate

Over 1,000 Tenants Could Lose Homes Over Landlord’s Unpaid Water Bill

Tenants in four Indianapolis low-income apartment buildings thought their rent covered utilities. They’ll lose water and potentially homes if their landlord doesn’t pay a $1.7 million bill by October.

The residents of 1,400 apartment units in four Indianapolis buildings face water shutoffs and potential displacement over their landlord’s failure to pay the water bill.

Tenants at the Capital Place apartment complex began receiving notices earlier this week that their water could soon be shut off. The owner of the complex, JPC Affordable Housing Foundation, owes $1.7 million to the utility company, the IndyStar first reported.

The threat of what city officials are calling a “mass-homelessness problem” has prompted city and state officials to see if they can prevent the displacement.

“The City is considering all options in response and will continue working with all parties involved to prioritize the well-being of tenants and their families,” the city’s mayor, Joe Hogsett.

JPC Affordable Housing Foundation is registered as a 501c3 nonprofit organization providing housing. It’s not the first time the landlord has been found to put tenants at risk.

The IndyStar found in an investigation in November that the group is part of a web of companies that have made more than 8,000 housing violations over a six-year stretch between 2015 and 2021. 

NPR reported tenants in the four buildings facing a potential water shutoff don’t directly pay for their water use. The owner instead pays a lump sum for each apartment building and supposedly recoups the cost through monthly rent. In 2021, JPC stopped regularly paying its water bill, according to an analysis of court records by NPR.

“The company says it could not pay due to financial hardship caused by the pandemic because “an overwhelming majority of tenants” failed to pay rent, according to affidavits signed in May and July by its president, Oron Zarum.”

The water company, Citizens Energy Group, shut off water in two of the buildings in February before the city restored service by paying $850,000, NPR reported.

The company is blaming widespread nonpayment from tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for nonpayment, though the IndyStar reported it hasn’t provided evidence in court to back up the claim that an “overwhelming majority” haven’t paid rent.

The city has said it won’t make another payment to avoid the shutoff because it isn’t confident the money would settle the unpaid bill, which the IndyStar says is growing at $100,000 a month.

If the matter isn’t resolved by the fall, Citizens Energy plans to proceed with the shutoff on Sept. 30.

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