INDIANAPOLIS — Multiple Indianapolis apartment complexes are getting the water and gas shut off after the owners racked up more than $1.7 million in overdue utility bills.
On Monday, Citizens Energy Group started notifying JPC Affordable Housing and Berkley Commons LLC that it plans to disconnect water and natural gas services at apartment properties under the owner’s name on September 30. This includes Berkley Commons, Woods at Oak Crossing, Covington Square and Capital Place Apartments.
“JPC Affordable Housing and Berkley Commons are continuing to cause great stress among their apartment tenants by not paying more than $1.7 million in utility bills despite collecting rent that includes funds intended to cover utilities. Citizens urges residents to continue contacting their property managers to demand they pay their past due utility bills,” said Michael Strohl, Senior Vice President, Chief Customer Officer at Citizens.
This isn’t the first time this year that Berkley Commons and Capital Place faced utility shut-offs. In February, Both Berkley Commons and Capital Place apartments had their water services turned off temporarily in February by Citizens over unpaid bills. The City of Indianapolis paid off a large portion of the unpaid bills.
For the tenants at Woods at Oak Crossing and Covington Square, this will be their first fight for water.
“Everybody in the apartment complex, all 250 of them,” said Ronald Deter a longtime resident at Covington Square who received a shut off notice on his door, “My next step was to go to the office, and find out what was going on. As soon as I hit the door, a girl gave me a piece of paper saying contact corporate office. I contacted the corporate office, but nobody picks up. It’s like a ghost number. It’s not fair to the residents out here.”
“I know they can’t come up with $1.7 million to pay a water bill,” said an angry, anonymous resident at Woods at Oak Crossing, “As soon as you don’t pay your rent, they put you out. They make up enough rules as they go.”
On Monday, Citizens said they attempted to recoup overdue funds with several payment arrangements over the past 18 months. However, they said both JPC and Berkley Commons have repeatedly broken the arrangements or refused to agree to repayment terms.
“The irresponsible business practices of JPC and Berkley Commons are unprecedented in the 11 years Citizens has owned the water utility. Disconnecting the JPC and Berkley Commons properties are necessary to protect all Citizens customers from the cost of unpaid bills. This is especially important in Marion County where more than 20 percent of our customers are low income, “ said Strohl. “We appreciate the continuing efforts by the City of Indianapolis and the Indiana Attorney General towards holding the apartment owners accountable to pay the past-due bills.
In a statement, Mayor Joe Hogsett called the decision by Citizens disappointing.
The decision by Citizens Energy Group to distribute water shutoff notices to tenants of JPC Affordable Housing properties is incredibly disappointing. We strongly believe that repayment, as well as a positive outcome for the hundreds of residents of these properties, is best achieved through continued, coordinated legal action with CEG and the Office of the Indiana Attorney General. Instead, today’s action throws residents into uncertainty amidst an already challenging time. The City is considering all options in response and will continue working with all parties involved to prioritize the well-being of tenants and their families.Mayor Joe Hogsett
We spoke with Jared Evans, City-County Councilor for District 22. Covington Square is within his district. He would like to see legislation enacted that would force landlords to give tenants a one-month warning if that company fails to pay the utility bill.
“Just like you and I would be if we didn’t pay our utility bill. The city doesn’t have a lot of tools by state law to address this proactively. So much of what we can do is reactive to the situation once it has occurred,” explained Evans, “At some point you have to stop, you cant keep bailing out bad actors.”
If the utility disconnections proceed on Sept. 30, Citizens said they will work closely with agencies assisting customers with relocation. Whenever possible, the company said they would waive utility connection fees associated with new service accounts and apply financial assistance from all available programs for eligible apartment residents relocated from the four apartment complexes.