Indianapolis files charges against two apartment complexes

Heather Ridge apartments (WTHR file photo)
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The city is filing suit and demanding money from two apartment complexes they call "nuisance properties."

Police say they've been called to the Heather Ridge and La Esmeralda apartment complexes more than 3,200 times times over the past five years for incidents ranging from illegal drug activity and assault to robbery and homicide.

"You've got police playing private security for two apartment complexes. We can't have that," said Adam Baker, a spokesman for the City's Department of Code Enforcement.

Baker said the two complexes, which have different owners, have also been the focus of more than 200 Code Enforcement and public health investigations.

La Esmeralda also been the target of an investigation by the Indianapolis Housing Agency. Last year it ordered the complex to pay $347,000 in fines for violating a slew of Section 8 standards. Among other things, it was cited for disabled fire alarm systems, inoperable smoke detectors, evidence of vermin, insects and rodents, lack of hot water and sewage back-up into units' bathrooms.

A woman who identified herself as Shy said she was glad to hear La Esmeralda was facing a nuisance suit.

"I was only there a year and got out of there as fast as I could," she said. "It wasn't safe for my children. I had to worry about my kids getting caught up in gunfire or with something going on with heavy drug activity."

While a manager declined comment saying he was still reviewing the suit, Michael Hammer, a tenant, was surprised to hear of the city's action.

"I've been here since February and while I've had a few issues with maintenance, they're quick to come and repair things and as with the other problems, I constantly see police coming in and out but mostly they're on patrol. My kids run the neighborhood just fine," said Hammer.

Alice, a former tenant, was glad to hear the city going after Heather Ridge. She shared pictures of her old apartment there.

Referring to one, she said, "This is toilet paper and feces in the hallway and this is a [dirty] vent. I said my child has asthma please clean this, but he never did."

Alice said she moved out after her newborn son got sick and was hospitalized three times because of exposure to mold.

"There was mold in the house, roaches in the carpet. The whole building was infested," she said.

Alice said she has sued the complex with her case going to court within the next few weeks.

Another woman complained, "They don't maintain the property at all. I had a mouse and they threw rat traps at me, telling me 'you handle it.'"

Bob Gupta, who's managed Heather Ridge apartments for ten years, said any time he gets a complaint or sees a problem, "I take care of it."

He also said he doesn't hesitate to call police when problems occur, saying he has a "zero tolerance" policy for crime.

Claudia Elmore, who moved in a year ago, stood by Gupta.

"Every time I've had an issue, they've come and fixed it in a couple of days. I've not had a problem. These people give me a second chance when one no else is willing to give you one," she said.

Alice though is glad she's found a new home for her two children.

"It was more than the crime," she said. "It was the filth, it was nasty. Worse than a project. It was horrible."

Baker said in filing the nuisance suits the city is able to go for more than the $2,500 threshold imposed on Code Enforcement violations. He said they're seeking an unspecified amount of money for damages.

Baker said it's not just about protecting residents, but stopping the drain on city resources.

"It's not just code enforcement and health and hospital paying visits with inspectors, We've got the city sending police and ambulances over there, then they come back and have fill out all these reports. It's a cost to the city and it's draining money for these two complexes and we can't have that," he said.

The city is also asking both complexes to improve safety by installing cameras, hiring security guards and screening potential tenants. While Gupta said he had already taken several measures, showing Eyewitness News city documents stating he was in compliance, he said the adding cameras would mean a big expense.

Both nuisance hearings are set for Mid-September.