Residents told to vacate get brief reprieve

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Residents of an east side apartment complex told to vacate by 5:00 pm Thursday received a bit of a reprieve. Because of the cold, residents of Oaktree Apartments at 42nd and Post will not be forced out until Monday.

A Marion County court ordered the eviction after the Marion County Health Department deemed the property unsafe, following an inspection last month prompted by tenants.

Health inspectors found several problems at the complex which is run down, burned out and mostly vacant.

But the most pressing issue was damage caused by broken water pipes following the bitter cold spell in early January.

Jerome Nickols, who's lived at Oaktree for three years pointed to the damage in his unit.

"The water pipes burst and flooded the whole apartment," he said. "You can see the carpet is different colors. That white stuff is mold."

Another tenant pointed to the gaping hole in his bathroom ceiling, still leaking, and showed us an adjacent unit where the kitchen ceiling had caved in, falling to the floor.

A London-based investment company owns the property. Site manager Curtis Jackson said the problems arose when pipes broke in the vacant units where there was no heat. He said it took time to find and fix those pipes but said the pipes themselves had been been repaired, adding, "Whenever we're told there's something broken, we fix it."

He estimated they've spent several hundred thousand dollars the last two years on repairs at the complex.

But the most recent fixes didn't meet the approval of the court, which ordered the complex to vacate the 46 remaining units.

Tenant Jeff Mills said, "Conditions aren't great, but it's home, you know.... I paid my rent, signed my lease and now I don't know where to go."

Throughout the day, tenants arrived at Jackson's office asking them what they should do.

Just after noon, Jackson said, a police officer told him they "wouldn't be putting anyone out in the cold tonight." Residents would have until Monday to find a new place.

Mills was "relieved," but still wanted his rent money back.

Jackson gave him a a check for $375, which made Mills "very happy... It helps with a new start."

Still, he and others weren't sure where they'd go.

Nickols said he was picking up applications for housing but hadn't secured anything yet.

"It's like I'm homeless now," he said.

Employees from the health department went door-to-door in mid-afternoon handing out information from the Lawrence Township Trustees Office on where to find help.

As for what happens to Oaktree? Jackson wasn't sure. It was his hope the owner of the property would invest more to fix it up, but other things must be addressed first.

Curt Brantingham, a spokesman for the Marion County Health Department, told Eyewitness news in an email that the court imposed a a fine against the property owner Jan. 30 when the order to vacate was issued.

He said the court also imposed a daily fine of $2,500 to the owner, beginning Jan. 30, for every day that the property remained occupied, adding the daily fine will continue beyond today's deadline if it remains occupied.

"We will continue to evaluate the situation," he said.