Ownership muddles solutions for abandoned homes in Indianapolis

Indianapolis has thousands of abandoned homes that often attract drug and criminal activity.
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Indianapolis has thousands of abandoned homes that often attract drug and criminal activity. It's a top concern of neighbors. So why can't more be done to fix or tear those houses down?

Eyewitness News asked the Michael Osborne, who heads the Near North Development Corporation to help explain.

Osborne referred to a 16-square-block area near the southern part of Crown Hill Cemetery where more than one-third of the homes are vacant. It's an area Near North is working hard to redevelop.

We saw three houses on Kenwood that are all vacant. But when you look past the boarded-up and broken windows, one of the homes doesn't look so bad, especially the inside.

"It might be a great opportunity if someone could get their hands on the property and someone was willing to invest in it," said Osborne.

But Osborne says there's one big obstacle.

"The challenge with a property like this is the convoluted ownership," he said.

As Osborne showed us, it was bought by an LLC in 2010 which dissolved three years later but is still shown as owning the property.

"It's an entity. You can't get a hold of a person you don't know," he said.

It did however, sell at tax sale "which means a new person has an interest in taking over the property but there's a one-year redemption period - so they can't do anything with it even if they wanted to for another year."

The longer the wait, the more the property falls into disrepair.

Records show the next house on Kenwood is owned by the woman who lives here. But that's not accurate. In fact the woman hasn't owned the home for at least four years. Osborne says she walked away from her mortgage.

"A lender will foreclose, get the legal judgement to foreclose but then actually take title to the property, so again, you've got a property that's owned by no one, essentially," said Osborne.

That makes it hard for organizations like Near North to acquire and renovate them. Plus, it sits next to some $80,000 and $90,000 homes they're developing.

Osborne says the third house has been vacant for six years. It's owned by a Connecticut woman, who until recently had kept up on her taxes and sewer bills.

"Despite the condition, there's not much anyone can do if the owner doesn't want to renovate or sell it," said Osborne.

So it remains an eyesore, across from five brand new houses, until it's sold or goes to tax sale.