The Herald Bulletin

December 6, 2012

Problems mount at Arbor Village apartments

Evacuated residents may be entitled to compensation

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — The list of building code violations at Arbor Village Apartments is mounting, Anderson city officials said Thursday, and it may be weeks before the 96-unit complex is habitable again.

That was the preliminary estimate from a licensed plumber who assessed the work that will be required to bring gas lines at the complex up to code, said Building Commissioner Frank Owens.

Other problems have surfaced with the electrical wiring in some of the buildings as well, which may add to the time it will take to make repairs.

Displaced tenants, meanwhile, will likely be able to recover damages from the apartment owners for the inconvenience of being turned out of their homes and forced to find other housing because he failed to adequately, an expert on Indiana Landlord Tenant law said.

So far, city inspectors have identified electrical work that was performed in five occupied and eight unoccupied units where no plans, specifications, or permits were reviewed or issued by the city as required, Owens said.

The city’s electrical inspector will continue looking at units today.

City officials condemned the complex and issued a mandatory evacuation order on Wednesday after gas leaks were found in the basements of all five building units.

That decision came after a brief evacuation Tuesday night when Vectren Energy, which provides gas service here, found leaks in three buildings and cut the gas to those units.

“These were not major leaks,” said Vectren spokeswoman Chase Kelley, but they could have led to more serious problems if not properly addressed, which is why the utility shutoff the gas.

“I just think it’s been a slow reaction to an issue that been going,” said Owens, noting that problems first surfaced about three weeks ago.

As issues with providing adequate heat during that time increased because of problems with the gas service, so did the number of space heaters in use. Tuesday night, he was told the complex had issued 45 space heaters to residents, and an unknown number had obtained their own, raising concerns that an overloaded electric system could cause a fire.

Arbor Village residents continued to find housing alternatives Thursday.

Some residents found shelter with friends and relatives; others searched for new apartments at other area complexes.

About 12 families receiving Department of Housing and Urban Development assistance through the Housing Assistance Payment, or HAP program, contacted the Anderson Housing Authority for help, said Charles Weatherly, deputy director.

“We will do everything we can to make sure this is a smooth transition,” he said. The agency has already contacted managers of other complexes that handle the federal voucher program. Other apartment property managers have also reached out to Arbor Village residents.

Danielle Layne, assistant property manager at The Giant Oaks and Cross Lakes apartment complexes, said they are prepared to offer one month of free rent and waive application fees to Arbor Village residents.

Complex owner Tom Stanley told The Herald Bulletin on Wednesday that the city was overreacting to the gas leak problems and “paranoid” because of the recent explosion on the south side of Indianapolis, and was not giving him enough time to fix the problems.

Stanley, who bought the apartments about three years ago and invested nearly $1 million to rehabilitate them, said the gas pipe issue is the only problem that remains. He added that he wants his tenants properly cared for.

Regardless of how Anderson city officials chose to handle the situation, under Indiana Landlord Tenant Law, the responsibility for maintaining the habitability of the property is Stanley’s, said Stephen Byers, managing attorney for Indiana Legal Services in Indianapolis, which covers Madison County.

Because Stanley has apparently failed to maintain the habitability of the property, all of the tenant leases are considered broken because residents have lost the use of their property through no fault of their own, Byers said.

In addition, the landlord is required to find alternative housing for his tenants and compensate them for their costs, Byers added.

“He can’t hold them liable for rent and he can’t hold them liable for their lease,” Byers said, adding that they “have a right to recover damages.”

Stanley could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.