INDIANAPOLIS — City, county and state leaders are looking into a troubled apartment complex on the north side of Indianapolis.
Lakeside Pointe is home to arson investigations, hundreds of thousands of dollars owed in property taxes and, most recently, a controversy over unpaid water bills that could lead to tenants losing their utilities.
"I've lived here nine-and-a-half years and I'm up to here with it," said Lakeside Pointe resident John Brent.
Most nights, the 69-year-old said he goes to bed afraid.
"Why should I go to bed at night worried? What if there's a fire? What move am I going to make first?" Brent said he asks himself all the time.
His concerns are real. There have been seven fires at the complex in the past nine months. Fire investigators with the Indianapolis Fire Department have ruled four of the fires arson and two as accidental.
IFD said some of the fires can be traced to neglect and lack of maintenance at the property and they have been working with the property's management to get the issues addressed.
This week, residents learned their water could get shut off in August because the owner of the complex has not paid their water bill with Citizens Energy.
"I've paid $60,000 in rent and you gotta put up with this? Where's the money going? Where's the money going?" asked Bent.
"I think that's the big question mark we all have. Where is the money going? Why is there over a million dollars owed to Citizens Energy Group and I don't know the answer," said Claire Holba with Patchwork Indy, a non-profit that works with different cultural groups around the city.
Holba said her organization has been advocating for residents at Lakeside for the past two years, trying to work with management to improve conditions.
"We finally realized it was just a band-aid being put over the wounds," said Holba, who says it has been difficult to track down the owners of the complex.
According to an IRS Tax Form 990, listing the apartment complex as a charitable organization, the complex's owner is listed as Fox Lake AHF.
"We can't find a website, we can't find phone numbers easily or emails to just reach out and try to have a conversation about what is happening," Holba explained. "We've been raising red flags since January saying something needs to be done, something needs to be done."
This past February, something was done.
Marion County's Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals revoked Lakeside Pointe's property tax-exempt status as a charitable organization with Marion County.
According to a property tax bill provided to 13News by Patchwork Indy, the property's owners are now facing a property tax bill of more than a half-million dollars.
According to the city's Department of Metropolitan Development, the apartment's management neglected the property, didn't maintain safe living conditions and failed to provide services to residents it had agreed to provide.
"It listed financial literacy courses and English language courses and rent credits for doing certain things and to our knowledge, none of that... none of that was happening," said Holba of the services the apartment complex was supposed to provide to its residents.
Marion County Assessor Joseph O'Connor said, right now, under the current law, there's no mechanism to routinely check if apartment complexes, like Lakeside Pointe, who are exempt from paying property taxes because they've agreed to provide charitable services to residents, are really holding up their end of the bargain.
"Under the law, they do not need to refile," said O'Connor. "So, unless something is brought to our attention, we don't have the staff."
Even so, O'Connor said his office is coming up with a plan to review more than 150 properties that do not pay property taxes because of their designation as a charitable organization.
"We decided we were going to do a comprehensive review of all charitable apartments receiving an exemption in Marion County," said O'Connor, who indicated the owners of Lakeside Pointe Apartments also own six properties with the same property tax exempt status.
"I do think there could be apartments operating not up to par for charitable services," said O'Connor. "Hopefully, we can identify those, and I think the goal is we want to provide quality of life and habitable living situations for the less fortunate.
"I think there are good players doing that and that ones who aren't I think we want to find out who they are and remove that exemption, have the board remove that exemption, if need be," O'Connor said. "The legislature, it's in their power to write a law, implement a law, enact a law to better police. They can empower our office to do more or just have a clearer bright line in the statute as to what is charitable, what would qualify, what doesn't and put them on a frequency where they're going to have to come before a board or someone to prove that they are following the law."
"I think the policy has got to change. This has been allowed because of gaps in the system," said Holba, who hopes in the meantime, the city or state will step in and appoint a third party to take over operations of Lakeside Pointe Apartments.
"It's in the city and or state's hands to take the right steps to bring relief and stability to the residents," Holba said.
The office of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita issued a statement that read:
"Attorneys for the Office of the Indiana Attorney General have been working with all responsible parties on this complex case to get it resolved as quickly as possible. We have negotiated a delay in potential shutoff of utility services in order for legal actions currently in process to be completed. Once these processes are through, we hope to have ownership controls in place that will provide for the proper care and upkeep of the structures that will best serve the residents of the community."
Brent certainly hopes so.
"I keep hoping something's got to change because it can't get any worse," he said.
Aloft Management statement
“Our company is currently working close with Citizens to come to a good resolution to continue to give our residents the utilities they need.
In the last couple years we have done everything in our power to repair several exteriors on the property as well as several interiors and will continue to do as many repairs as possible to make sure our residents are taken care of.
Pre-Covid our property had certain services such as translation Saturdays and a food pantry out front. We had also been working to add additional classes. Once Covid came we were unable to hold the classes and different programs due to the pandemic. This is during the same times our city was shut down. This last year has been extremely difficult for our country let alone many properties.
In regards to the fires we have done everything possible to work with the IFD as well as IMPD. We have shared as much information as possible to help catch who has been causing these fires on the property and will continue to do so. We really feel it is very unfortunate that certain people feel the need to damage or destroy our property and risk other individuals lives. We have also spoken with local police and offered to set up a substation on property to help combat some of the problems in the area. We are currently awaiting response from them.”