Charlestown, Ind.—Today, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Charlestown must follow the state of Indiana’s Unsafe Building Law, a state statute that gives property owners procedural protections from overzealous city code enforcement.
The decision on the neighborhood’s preliminary injunction now goes back to Judge Jason Mount to rule on how the Unsafe Building Law applies in this case and how it prevents the city from issuing fines. For procedural reasons the appellate court did not address the question of whether the city violated the state and federal constitutions.
“Today’s opinion is another rebuke to the city of Charlestown’s reckless disregard for state law,” said Anthony Sanders, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Pleasant Ridge homeowners. “This includes a cap on the amount of fines, and a mandate that fines can only be issued against recalcitrant property owners. The city has wantonly ignored those protections through issuing immediate fines against property owners in its illegal quest to force them to sell their properties to developer John Neace.”
The case arises out of the city’s horrific practice of fining property owners in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood in an effort to force them out of their homes in order to have the entire area redeveloped by local businessman John Neace. Because of the city’s illegal code enforcement practices, Neace was able to purchase almost two hundred properties for only $10,000 per lot, far less than their tax-assessed values. Many of these sales were made from landlords who had been fined thousands of dollars in violation of the Unsafe Building Law.
“The residents of Pleasant Ridge have been under assault from the city for years, and this is just the latest rebuke to its unconstitutional and immoral effort to wipe them off the map,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “We now look forward to having the trial court issue a new injunction against the city that includes a requirement that it follow state law.”
The issue now goes to the trial court with argument before the court on the state law question likely coming in the next couple of months. Meanwhile, the residents of Pleasant Ridge remain in their homes and look forward to a final judgment that will permanently protect them from city abuse.