Hunter Bloomington Properties removed washers, dryers and other appliances Monday from three apartments in Bloomington where tenants have been unable or refused to pay rent, according to emails obtained by the Indiana Daily Student.
The washers and dryers were taken from tenants in the Bloom Apartments complex on South Adams Street because they haven’t paid April rent and haven’t responded to emails asking them to set up rent payment plans, according to the emails. After the IDS asked a Hunter Properties regional manager Tuesday afternoon about the removals and blowback on social media, the property management company walked back its decision and called it a mistake.
TVs and cable boxes were also removed from the apartments. Hunter Bloomington Properties reinstalled all the appliances Wednesday.
Hunter Properties regional manager Tracey Walker said the company regrets the decision to remove the appliances. Appliances were only removed from three tenants’ apartments in the Bloom Apartments complex who had not responded to emails concerning payment plans for unpaid rent, Walker said.
“We have tried very diligently to work with all of our residents on all of our properties to help them during this difficult time for all for them paying their rent,” Walker said. “When we make a mistake, we're humble enough to admit it.”
Some tenants have also received notices for not complying with their lease, stating the company intends to file for evictions when Gov. Eric Holcomb’s eviction moratorium ends. The moratorium is scheduled to end when the state of emergency is lifted.
Walker defended the notices. He said it was within the company’s rights and in line with the governor’s order.
Tenant Rachel Jones' appliances were removed Monday. Maintenance workers came into the apartment in hazmat suits and began work on removing her appliances. The washer and dryer were removed first. Next, maintenance workers unscrewing the TV from the wall, disconnecting cords as they went. The process took only 13 minutes, according to a video Jones sent to the IDS.
Jones said she was unsure where she was going to do laundry. She could go to her boyfriend’s apartment, but it was communal. The laundromat was also an option, but it posed the same problem.
Jones' appliances were removed despite emailing the company April 5 to set a date to pay rent, according to emails sent between Jones and Hunter Bloomington Properties reviewed by the IDS. The company also asked for a note from Jones’ doctor to ensure the maintenance workers wouldn’t be exposed to COVID-19 when they removed the appliances.
Jones said she was especially annoyed that Hunter Bloomington Properties took her TV because she pays the electric bill. The washer and dryer were taken because the company pays the water bill with the tenant’s rent, and Jones hasn’t paid it.
Jones sent an email to Hunter Bloomington Properties on Monday about her washer and dryer, saying the company was violating Indiana law, which requires landlords to provide and maintain various utility systems such as sanitation and plumbing. She also told the company she was planning to take legal action if her appliances were removed.
“Shaking down tenants under a global pandemic won’t keep you from getting sued,” Jones said in an email Monday.
The company’s reply was brief, stating that maintenance employees would come get the appliances.
“Okay then we will see you in court,” the company responded.
Jones, 20, was working as a nanny for a Bloomington family, but when Holcomb’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 24, she lost her job. She said she’s been working online to help pay bills.
She was planning to pay rent Wednesday, but now Jones is withholding rent in solidarity with the tenants who can’t pay, she said. She’s also helping organize a rent strike to bargain with Hunter Bloomington Properties.
Jamie Sutton, executive director of the local low-cost legal team Justice Unlocked, said after looking at a Hunter Bloomington Property tenant’s lease, he’s sure what the company did is illegal. There was no provision or clause in the document giving them power to take away appliances for not paying rent.
Sutton said by reinstalling the appliances, Hunter Bloomington Properties will most likely avoid a lawsuit.
“If the landlord fixes the problem by returning the items, the opportunity to sue goes away,” he said.
Student Legal Services lawyer Marc Abplanalp wasn’t able to review the lease due to the office’s policy but said removing the appliances was bad business and undesirable. He said removing washers and dryers could compromise tenants’ safety, but he couldn’t say if the decision was illegal.
By removing people’s means of doing their laundry, it would force people to go to public laundromats or friends’ and families’ apartments, Abplanalp said. They could easily be exposed to the coronavirus depending on how frequently tenants do their laundry or where they go to do it.
Abplanalp said he can see both sides of the situation when it comes to tenants paying rent and landlords needing it. On one hand, lots of people are unable to afford rent. On the other hand, mortgages, bills and maintenance doesn’t stop in a pandemic.