Last night, the Charlestown City Council passed a resolution that announced it would be extending the city’s illegal code enforcement regime to homeowners in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood. Prior to last night’s vote, the illegal inspections only targeted rental properties.
For the last four months, Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall has defended the city’s illegal land grab and decried criticism as nothing more than “fake news.” Writing on his Facebook page, he stressed that “the City is inspecting rental homes only,” that “the city has not inspected one Homeowner’s house in Pleasant Ridge. NOT ONE,” and that “homeowners are to be treated fairly.”
That was true, until it wasn’t. Now the mayor and his supporters on city council have flip-flopped.
“Mayor Hall is now doing exactly what we have predicted all along: a second phase of code enforcement intended to force homeowners out of their property to clear a path for redevelopment,” said Jeff Rowes, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Pleasant Ridge property owners against the city. “Last night’s vote confirms that Mayor Hall and the city have never been candid with the public, and dressing up this illegal land grab as an effort to ‘protect’ the people you’re trying to throw into the streets is as much an insult to everyone’s intelligence as it is to the constitution and laws of Indiana.”
Last year, the city of Charlestown used the rental unit inspection program to levy crippling fines against landlords in the Pleasant Ridge development. At the time, homeowners were exempt. Faced with fines that escalated daily, the city made an offer that many landlords could not afford to refuse. If the landlords agreed to sell their homes to a company owned by a private developer named Neace Ventures for $10,000, the city would waive the fines. So far, landlords have sold 152 homes to Neace. At the end of last month, hundreds of renters were forced out of their homes by the new developer (some had their leases extended until the end of April).
“At this point, I’ve almost begun to lose track of how many laws the city has broken,” said IJ Senior Attorney Anthony Sanders. “This is a brazen, last-ditch attempt to expand an illegal law that was already the target of a preliminary injunction. This only makes our lawsuit only more compelling.”
In February, the Institute for Justice partnered with Pleasant Ridge homeowners, landlords, and the Charlestown Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association to file a preliminary injunction challenging the city’s inspection program. The motion is pending and a hearing is expected relatively soon.