Tenants take dangerous measures to keep warm

Roy Hoffman points to where his stolen furnace once stood.
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As Indiana experiences some of the coldest temperatures in several years, some people are stealing warmth.

"I thought I've seen it all, being a landlord 30 years," says Roy Hoffman at one of his rentals on the east side.

He says when renters don't pay their gas bills, they take drastic measures to keep warm.

"I have had them heat the house with the stove. When you deep fry a turkey outside, they took one of those burners and stuck it under my water heater to heat water for the house," Hoffman said.

That destroyed that water heater.

"They took a pan, stuck it on the floor in the basement. Put charcoal in it, lit it on fire and, of course, heat rises. Heated the house that way," he added.

That's not just a fire risk, but also the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"They didn't care," Hoffman said.

He has seen other risky heating methods, too.

When he recently went down into the basement of one of his rentals, he found "they took my furnace, they took all of the duct work."

It's a national problem with furnaces and more stolen for their copper and other metals. And the way the thieves removed the furnace allowed gasses to flow onto one side of the double from the working furnace on the other side. Another potentially deadly carbon monoxide leak.

The pair even had a toddler in the house. Upstairs, even the electric stove was stolen, also taking the outlet it was plugged into, leaving bare, live wires.

The tenants stole the metal-frame storm windows, too.

"They were living here. They were behind on their rent," Hoffman said.

Hoffman says they even signed a paper admitting the theft. The male renter later called Hoffman and blamed his girlfriend.

"You got the wrong idea," the boyfriend said in a phone message. "That was (her) idea, it's not mine. I'll take a lie detector to prove it. I'm willing to pay for the furnace."

Of course, he hasn't paid and now police tell Roy it's not even a crime in his case - it's a civil action, a landlord-tenant dispute.

"What do I do?" said Hoffman, pointing to an estimate showing the $2,600 cost to replace the furnace and ductwork.

On top of everything else, he's learned what the people who lived here did with the Thanksgiving turkey he gives all his tenants.

"They sold it," he said. "They sold it for money."