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Tenants sue landlord over living conditions, delayed repairs

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INDIANAPOLIS — A pair of tenants took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit against their landlord, alleging delayed repairs and poor living conditions.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers visited the rental property, on the east side of Indianapolis, in early November. Prudence Hawkins, who moved out of the property in October, and Jeremiah Grooms, who faced an eviction case, said they decided to work with an attorney to file the lawsuit after conditions at the home deteriorated over the summer.

“It was always excuse after excuse after excuse,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins and Grooms said that sewage began backing up into the basement of the home, leading their landlord, Ryan Edmundson, to place a Porta Potty behind the home for them to use.

“In the middle of COVID for two different families to share. It was like, ‘I can’t live like this,'” Hawkins said.

City officials issued a stop work order in late October for failure to obtain a plumbing permit. That permit has since been obtained and the plumbing is functioning again.

Grooms moved into the property in February. He said that the thought he made a deal this fall to not pay rent while repairs were being made, but instead records show that Edmundson filed for eviction on the same day Grooms called the health department.

“It’s been stressful, knowing that now all I was trying to do was get you to do the work that you promised me you were going to do … and now you’re evicting me because I’m fighting back,” Grooms said. “I don’t feel it’s right.”

Health department inspectors issued multiple repair orders at the property, most recently noting issues like “faulty heat ducts,” mold in the basement and unrepaired floors and ceilings. Inspectors will return to the home for another inspection in late November.

After Hawkins moved out, Chaneeka Marble signed a lease and paid a deposit and her first month’s rent. Marble said upon turning the lights on at the property, she quickly identified issues that made her unwilling to move in.

“24 hours after I signed the lease I asked him, ‘May I have my money back, because there’s no way me and my seven-year-old son can live in mold,'” Marble said. “He told me if I want it back, I have to sue him in court, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Marble filed a small claims lawsuit. A hearing has been set for December in her case.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers reached out to Ryan Edmundson about all three tenants’ cases. Through a lawyer, Edmundson declined to comment.

What to do if your landlord isn’t making repairs

Chase Haller, a housing attorney with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, is not involved in these tenants’ cases, but he said allegations of delayed repairs sound familiar.

“It does certainly seem to me like we have gotten more complaints about landlords’ failure to repair in the last several months than we have probably ever,” Haller said.

Here is what Haller suggested you do if you are struggling to get a landlord to make repairs:

  • Outline your request in writing, preferably via email or certified letter
  • Allow the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make repairs
  • Contact the health department
  • File a small claims case for damages if you ultimately must pay to make repairs yourself
  • Never withhold rent without first consulting with an attorney

Haller said that in many cases, he sees tenants either move out or stop paying rent out of frustration, which can lead to an eviction case.

“Indiana law is the way that it is and until there’s a change to the law, they just have to do things a certain way to protect themselves,” Haller said.

If you are currently facing eviction, there is a new website that can help. Click the link here to visit indyrenterhelp.org.

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