GOSHEN — Despite bug infestations, holes in walls and leaky water pipes commonly found in two dozen properties around the city owned by Goshen landlord Jared Yoder, many tenants have no choice but to call those places home.
Piles of court records from lawsuits, city building inspections and word from tenants paint a nightmarish scene of the state of the apartments.
While the city and banks fight Yoder in court, many tenants end up in limbo, either stuck living in a dilapidated building or facing homelessness. The legal peculiarities have left the city and tenants in a near-helpless situation.
“We don’t have any specific programs to help tenants in these situations. We usually look at those as a civil matter between the tenants and landlords,” said Mark Brinson, director of the department of community development. “They have a contractual relationship.”
Several of Yoder’s tenants who spoke with The Elkhart Truth asked for their name to be withheld from publication for fear of being evicted, but their stories matched accounts documented in inspection reports and complaints filed with court cases.
According to documents obtained over the last week from the city, Yoder is listed as the owner of 10 properties in Goshen, eight of which are listed as apartment buildings. In total, Yoder oversees 36 rental units in the city.
Are you a tenant who needs help? Resources:
At the moment, it is not clear exactly how many of Yoder’s properties are under litigation, but according to court files Yoder has been involved in at least eight mortgage foreclosure cases in the last seven years. In three, no judgment has been made. The other five have resulted in foreclosures or the cases were dropped.
At least nine tenants in the six units at 121 W. Washington St., one of the properties involved in a mortgage foreclosure case, were asked to leave last month. Another property at 114 S. Seventh St., also involved in a mortgage foreclosure case, sits partially vacant.
Other properties are under litigation because the landlord violated city building department codes.
A building at 410 E. Jefferson was inspected in June 2012 and was found to have violated a number of codes: the building needed repairs to the stairs, front porch deck, back walls and holes in exterior walls. The building had cockroach and other bug infestations in all four apartments. Broken windows in the property needed to be replaced. The property didn’t have a single smoke detector.
Subsequent inspections noted no significant repairs were made to the property. Then, in 2013, the city filed a complaint against Yoder. A judge ordered him to pay a fee of $1,000, but so far it hasn’t been paid, according to court files.
Another court case developed in June involving four properties, including an address on Washington Street and three on Lincoln Avenue, after water service was shut off for lack of payment.
Two days after the water was shut off, the utility office found that the water meter for each of the properties showed usage and shut the service off again.
A couple days later, Yoder was caught illegally turning the water back on. The city filed a complaint in court asking for Yoder to pay the fee he owed, and to pay for court costs, coming to a total of $2,500. The case is still pending.
Brinson explained that Yoder’s case is unique because he owes money to the banks for some of his buildings, and after looking at the lists of cases pending and the fines Yoder owes, the city’s legal department came to the conclusion that it’s just a matter of time before they start seeing foreclosures on those properties.
In other words, there’s no point suing for money the city knows they’ll never see.
The number of federal tax liens, tax warrants, judgements and pending lawsuits filed against Yoder are in some cases overwhelming.
For one of the properties, at 408 E. Lincoln Ave., a list that fits in five pages shows 44 legal actions, such as judgments, pending lawsuits and tax warrants, against Yoder.
From the city’s standpoint, they would rather wait until the properties are collected and sold so they can focus their efforts on working with the new owner to upgrade the buildings, Brinson said.
“If we go to court and ask for a fine because somebody hasn’t complied and we see this person owes money to a number of different parties, usually that gives us an idea that there’s not much likelihood we’ll ever collect the fine,” he said. “So at that point, the question is, is it really worth to go through the time and effort and the legal process?”
In the meantime the only other power the city has would be to vacate the building if it is posing a serious risk to tenants’ health.
“But then that creates other problems because we have tenants who have put down their deposits, who have paid their rent and they have no place to go. So there’s no real easy solution,” he said.
Several attempts to reach Yoder were unsuccessful.
Follow Elkhart truth reporter Sharon Hernandez on Twitter at @Sharon_HT