East side apartments ‘unlivable’ despite rent-paying tenants called ‘squatters’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There’s a sign in the 6100 block of E. 11th St. that warns drivers and visitors alike they are about to enter a dead end.

A block later, in the Presidio Apartments, the residents already know that.

The three-building apartment complex is up for sale at a price of $799,000 by California owners who admitted to CBS4 that it hasn’t been a functioning apartment community, “for five or six months,” due to the mold, debris, lack of running water and electricity and raw sewage found throughout the buildings.

During the last half year when Indy Apartments LLC’s owners and manager admit their buildings were, “unlivable,” lease-holding tenants continued to pay their monthly rent despite receiving a letter, not an official eviction notice, from a proposed new owner telling them in late May they had but a few days to leave their homes.

That sale still has not gone through and Michael Grooms and his girlfriend still live in what should be an abandoned building.

“You got a place for me to stay?” said Grooms when he was asked why he doesn’t move. “I’m about to be holding a cardboard box, be, ‘Feed me and my brother.’”

Friday afternoon, CBS4 inquired about the conditions of the complex, the eviction letter and the welfare of the residents.

Saturday morning, crews arrived to begin boarding up doors even as a handful of units in two buildings remained occupied.

“I don’t know who could have sent them up over there to do that, but that’s what they was doing,” said neighbor Duane Murff, who watched the workmen through his living room window from across the street.  “Man, I ain’t seen them over there doing some work in a long time over since everybody moved out of there.”

Grooms literally needed to pry his way out of the building after crews nailed the doors shut from outside.

“They came over and didn’t say nothing and with no fair warning. They just came over and drilled everything,” said Grooms. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘You got a way out?’ I said, ‘Do I got a way out? You’re supposed to lock this back door, not the front. So what you locking it up anyway? I’m living.’”

With the help of Julie Fidler, Research and Public Policy Manager of the City County Council, and an off-duty IMPD officer, CBS4 was able to force its way inside the boarded up building where Grooms, his girlfriend, toddler niece and friend were staying.

The water meter has been chained shut in the basement. Extension cords run from a live outlet in the hallway into Grooms’ apartment. Neighbors and IMPD have donated water and food to the residents.

For more than a year, the city has filed complaints about water, sewage and electricity emergencies, “mushrooms now growing out of walls/ceilings in bathroom and the closet door is molded and swelled shut,” as well as trash and debris.

Throughout the complex, windows are broken, copper’s been stolen, walls smashed and ruined appliances and building materials litter the floors.

“They had a lot of problems with roaches and a lot of people moved out because of the roaches as well,” said Murff.

“There was mold in the first building down there, there’s a lot of roaches and stuff, they didn’t do nothing,” said Trevor Cook, a longtime neighbor who was hanging out in Grooms’ apartment when the doors were nailed shut, “so, it started to go downhill there, roaches and bugs started coming over here, it started to get mold in here, and they wouldn’t do nothing about it.”

CBS4 has been furnished with lease agreements that remain current and would appeared to have been signed during the downhill deterioration of the buildings as recorded by city complaint logs as well as accounts of rent payments made to a manager, who is no longer associated with the property long after the owner admitted the buildings ceased to function as a viable community.

The out-of-town owner, Zack Lawrence, managing partner of L & J Investment Properties, abruptly disconnected a phone call after he was advised for the second time that he was speaking with a reporter.

“Its been a pretty big headache and there’s only so much we can do,” he said before hanging up.

The local manager for Indy Apartments LLC, Lee Ann Swafford agreed the Presidio in its current condition is, “unlivable.”

“I’m a human being and they shouldn’t be living like that,” said Swafford, admitting she had been on the job for less than ten days. “I’m coming into a giant disaster.”

While some residents have been moved temporarily into motel rooms paid for by the Marion County Department of Health, Swafford said tenants could relocate to another property, the Shadeland Court Apartments, operated by the same owner.

Swafford and the owners claim anyone left behind, despite the lack of official eviction notices to terminate their legal leases, are “squatters.”

The Presidio’s decay in a neighborhood of recent single-family home construction and duplexes with manicured lawns is matched only by a similarly abandoned three-story building, the Sheridan Apartments, on the other side of E. 11th St.

“It really makes the whole neighborhood look bad,” said Murff. “I mean, you got trash all over there and people just come and dump whatever they want to dump off and its just making the whole neighborhood look bad.”

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