The City of Carmel filed a foreclosure lawsuit May 24 on a home in the Johnson Addition neighborhood after its owner failed to clean up the property and pay the city nearly $3,500 for city employees removing junk and mowing the lawn.
For more than two years, homeowner Kellie O’Rourke’s property on Emerson Road has been packed with items that include everything from a basketball backboard to broken furniture to used toys. Some of the junk appears to be for sale and attracts a stream of visitors to the residential street, according to Giovanni Russo, who lives next door.
“It’s like hoarder-level scary over there,” said Russo, adding that the state of the property has led neighbors to worry about its effects on values of nearby homes and safety.
“It’s just disgusting,” said Charlie Demler, who has lived on Emerson Road since 1980. “I would guarantee it’s got to be the worst home in Carmel.”
O’Rourke did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The news of the pending foreclosure came as a relief to many of the neighbors, who say they’ve tired of asking city officials to remedy the situation.
“The entire neighborhood will be pleased that what is expected of everyone from a tax and zoning standpoint will be enforced in this situation,” Russo said. “The number of codes, laws and regulations I personally have to follow for my home business is astounding. You cannot just do whatever and whenever you want in a residential area. Even the most naïve homeowners know this to be true. It was time for the city to take action. I love living in Carmel, and hundreds shouldn’t have to suffer because of one address.”
Johnson Addition is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and does not have a homeowner’s association. The neighbors’ attempts to address the issue directly with O’Rourke haven’t made a difference, Russo said.
Although some Emerson Road residents don’t think the city acted fast enough, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he is “absolutely on the neighbors’ side” in the matter.
“I have personally looked at this house, and it’s a mess,” he said. “It’s very inconsiderate to their neighbors to do what they do.”
The city has documented violations at the home since at least March 2019, when records show that a code enforcement officer opened a case and noted that a car was consistently parked on the sidewalk and in the yard; trash and debris had collected in front of the house; a tire was in the front lawn; and a storage container was permanently in the driveway.
Two months later, Carmel took the matter to city court, alleging that the homeowner had made the property unsafe and did not follow local maintenance laws. In July 2019, the city dismissed the charges but took the homeowner to court once again the following month for accumulating rubbish.
This time, O’Rourke reached a deal with the city, agreeing on Oct. 28, 2019, that between Nov. 1, 2019, and Nov. 1, 2020, the city may dispose of items stored unlawfully on the property if a violation wasn’t addressed within 24 hours. She would be liable for all costs and would not likely get the items back.
Between Nov. 8, 2019, and June 16, 2020, the city took remedial action at the property seven times, resulting in a total charge of $3,490.50. Because O’Rourke hasn’t paid the citations, the City of Carmel took the rare step of filing a foreclosure lawsuit, something it hasn’t done in the last decade.
O’Rourke has the right to oppose the lawsuit in court, but if a judge rules in the city’s favor, her property would be sold by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and unpaid creditors would receive what they’re owed from the proceeds. O’Rourke would receive what remains from the sale.
“This is not a case arising as a result of the pandemic, but was a problem for months before the pandemic,” stated Dan McFeely, a spokesperson for the City of Carmel. “The City normally would wait to collect the fines if the property were cleaned up. However, the violations are continuing. The neighbors’ property values are impacted and the city has a responsibility to proceed.”
Carrie Holle, a Realtor with Highgarden Real Estate, said neighbors and city officials are right to be concerned about property values. She said living near a house that is poorly maintained could lower surrounding home values by as much as 20 percent.
If someone wanting to purchase a home wants to look at a house next to a property with major maintenance issues, such as junk accumulation, Holle said she recommends not even considering it.
“I would strongly suggest we not even look at the house and move on,” she said.
Brainard said living in an urban area comes with responsibilities to neighbors and the community at large.
“It’s a matter of kindness, thoughtfulness and consideration to keep your property looking decent,” he said. “(These residents) just aren’t doing it, and they either need to move out a long way away from any neighbors so they can do what they want, or they need to recognize they live in an urban area and they’re hurting other people.”