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Citizens Energy Group will keep service to 4 Indy apartment complexes

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After Citizens Energy Group was set to disconnect delinquent water and natural gas services from four apartments, they announced Thursday that they’ve reached an agreement that will keep the services running.

The energy group first announced in July that it began placing disconnections at four JPC Affordable Housing apartments: Berkley Commons, Woods at Oak Crossing, Covington Square, and Capital Place Apartments.

Prior to that announcement, Citizens Energy Group had attempted to recoup overdue funds with several payment arrangements over the past 18 months, but JPC had repeatedly broken the arrangements or refused to agree to reasonable payment terms.

JPC agreed to pay it’s past utility bill debt which totals over $1.9 million. As a part of the agreement, JPC will sell the four apartment complexes and the proceeds will be used to compensate Citizens.

“We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement to prevent utility disruption to the residents of the four JPC Affordable Housing properties while protecting our customer base from the full cost of JPC’s past due utility debt,” president and CEO of Citizens Energy group, Jeffrey Harrison, said.

Mayor Joe Hogsett and Attorney General Todd Rokita told reporters during a Thursday afternoon news conference JPC must sell its remaining properties in Indianapolis by Dec. 31 and must dissolve all of its entities in Indiana by April 30. The nonprofit will not be permitted to do business in the state of Indiana for a period of seven years.

Hogsett said while he was pleased with the result of the settlement, it should not have taken legal action by the city, the state and Citizens to resolve the matter.

“There is a minimum standard by which property owners must abide,” Hogsett said. “And oh, by the way, that minimum standard is quite easy to understand because tenants are held to that standard every single day: Honor your lease, honor the law.”

Rokita said the case strained Indiana’s existing laws governing nonprofits to their limit. In a related case, he said a judge ruled the state didn’t have standing to bring suit because the judge wasn’t sure if state law allowed for it. The judge in this case ruled the state could bring legal action. He said state lawmakers should review those laws in light of the JPC case when they return in January to determine if any changes need to be made.

Hogsett said he hopes lawmakers will consider new protections for renters. He said the city’s rental assistance programs remain well-funded for the time being, in part due to COVID-19 relief funding.

Harrison said utility service will remain connected at the four complexes throughout the settlement period. He said Citizens likely will make some kind of policy changes as a result of the JPC case, though it’s too soon to say what kind.

Hogsett said the city doesn’t have any control over who ultimately buys the JPC properties but it can set some parameters as a result of the settlement.

Asked what tenants of the four JPC properties should do if they receive eviction notices, Rokita said they should continue to honor their side of the lease and seek legal remedy.