I-Team 8

Woman says apartment complex refuses to fix issue after water heater catches fire twice

Stephanie Zepelin -

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) -- An Indianapolis woman said there were two fires in her apartment, and the management did little to fix the cause.

Chelsea Morrow told I-Team 8 she wanted to be let out of her lease without a penalty, but decided to do an interview with us because she was worried about the safety of everyone else in the complex.

Chelsea Morrow said when her hot water went out in August, she took a look inside the utility closet. She says her air conditioning unit was dripping onto her hot water heater's electrical panel.

"My water heater started going out," said Morrow. "It was rattling, leaking, there were exposed wires everywhere, something didn't seem right. So I reported it again, they said, 'no it's fine.'"

Several days later, when she was out of town, she heard from the friend watching her place.

"He called me and said, 'oh my God, we just had a fire, what do I do?' I'm like, 'I don't know, call 911,'" said Morrow.

When she got home, Morrow says management refused to replace the water heater.

"The electrical panel was all black, you could see where it had been on fire and she was saying no," said Morrow.

Instead of replacing the hot water heater, Morrow says a maintenance worker put caulking around the electrical panel. But two months later, there was a second fire in the same place: her utility closet.

"That's when I grabbed my phone, I was like, 'I'm getting this on film,'" she said.

She took several videos on her cell phone to try to prove to management something was wrong. Even after the second fire, the air conditioning unit was still dripping water onto the water heater with just caulk, she says, to seal off the electrical panel. Morrow showed I-Team 8 the new water heater and we saw, firsthand, the air conditioning unit still dripping.

I-Team 8 called Scandia Apartments, but they sent us to the Stonecreek Living, the management company. They told us they could not talk about Morrow's specific situation because of a confidentiality agreement Morrow and the company signed. They did agree to answer more general questions if we sent an email, but never replied to further emails or calls.

I-Team 8 went to an expert on heating and cooling.

"Anything dripping on a water heater, not good," said Josh Huck, Director of Operation for Williams Comfort Air. "I mean it's just common sense not good."

Huck spent the last 22 year working in HVAC. We showed him the pictures of Morrow's air conditioning unit above her water heater.

"Most times dripping outside of where we want it to go leads to a lot of nuisance," Huck said. "It gets dangerous when there's other components like high voltage electricity directly below it or in its path, so it can be very dangerous."

The Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County has the same concerns. It cited the complex with multiple violations in October.

Curt Brantingham, the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County Media/Public Information Coordinator, says they could cite apartment managers for problems similar to Morrow's using the follow sections of code:

Article 3. Responsibilities Of Owners And Occupants.

Sec. 10-301. Owner Responsibilities For Sanitation Maintenance. a) An owner may not allow occupancy of a dwelling unless the premises are clean, safe, sanitary and fit for human occupancy. b) When a dwelling contains more than two dwelling units, the owner shall: 1) cut and dispose of weeds in a clean and sanitary manner; 2) provide solid waste storage containers for garbage and rubbish generated by occupants; and 3) maintain the common areas in a clean and safe condition and dispose of rubbish, garbage, waste tires, or junk vehicles in a clean, safe and sanitary manner. c) When a premises have a vacant building or structure or is a vacant lot, the owner shall: 1) cut and dispose of weeds; 2) maintain the premises in a clean and safe condition; and 3) dispose of rubbish, garbage and junk vehicles.

Sec 10-303. a) An owner or occupant may not allow the condition of any property to cause or produce any health or safety hazard. b) An owner or occupant shall maintain the interior of a dwelling in a safe manner allowing a person ingress and egress into the dwelling and between rooms of the dwelling. c) An owner or occupant may not allow the condition of any property to cause conditions in which rodents, mosquitoes and vectors have food, shelter, or a breeding place. d) An owner or occupant shall store usable items in a safe manner at least eighteen (18) inches above the ground.

The complex and their ownership group refused to speak with I-Team 8 about what is going on and whether other units might have similar issues. They did replace Morrow's water heater after the second fire, but the AC unit was still dripping.

"The goal is just to get it safe here and to get management to understand that these are our lives," said Morrow. "Just because we pay a set rent amount doesn't mean that we're not building homes here. So I just want them to make it safe for everyone else."

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