Economy Inn Owner Appeals Demolition Order

The Economy Inn, 3521 Lake City Highway, Warsaw, sits vacant and boarded up Tuesday afternoon. Warsaw Code Enforcement Hearing Officer Tom Earhart ordered the property demolished, but owner Jay Patel has 10 days to appeal to the Kosciusko Circuit Court. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

Decisions by Warsaw Code Enforcement Hearing Officer Thomas Earhart can be appealed within 10 days to the Kosciusko Circuit Court.

The owner of the Economy Inn, Jay Patel, doing business as Hari Om Inc., filed his appeal July 2 regarding Earhart’s June 22 order that the property at 3521 Lake City Highway, Warsaw, be demolished.

The building had been damaged in a storm in May 2019, and went before the Code Enforcement in October 2019 and those hearings have been continued about every month since. The motel has remained closed. The Economy Inn previously went before Code Enforcement in 2017 over an awning.

Patel, the plaintiff, was at the May 2021 hearing, but neither he nor any representatives appeared at the June hearing. At the June hearing, Code Enforcement Officer Dana Hewitt said Patel had failed to communicate with the city’s Building & Planning Department  and they had not heard from him since the May hearing.

The lawsuit filed by Hari Om Inc. lists the defendants as the city of Warsaw, Mayor Joseph Thallemer and Warsaw Building Commissioner Ray Behling. Hari Om Inc. is represented by attorneys Lisa Gilkey Schoetzow and Alex B. Bowling, of Thorne – Grodnik LLP, Elkhart.

The court documents ask for a judicial review, preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction. It states the plaintiff “believes an expedited hearing is warranted because it will suffer immediate and irreparable harm if defendant is permitted to demolish plaintiff’s property.”

The complaint from the plaintiff states that on or about May 23, 2019, the property was “severely damage” by a windstorm and required numerous and extensive repairs requiring the plaintiff’s insurance company’s involvement.

In June 2019, Patel hired a private adjuster, Cole Kline of Hope Public Adjusters, to assist with the insurance claim.

On Oct. 17, 2019, the defendant issued an order to the plaintiff pursuant to the Indiana Unsafe Building Law requiring the plaintiff to demolish and remove salvage on the property by Oct. 29, 2019, the complaint states.

In mid-summer 2019, the demolition crew began demolition of the damage. The cleanup was continued for about two to three months. The cost of the demolition was approximately $350,000, the complaint states.

In fall 2019, Patel “secured preapproval for an additional bank loan for renovating the property, with the loan closing and funding after the insurance matter was resolved,” the lawsuit states. Then in March 2020, a new roof was installed on the building for about $385,000.

Around October 2020, the insurance company and the plaintiff reached a resolution of the plaintiff’s claims. In that same month, or in November, the complaint states, Patel returned to the bank that had provided him the preapproval and was told that because the hotel business was one of the hardest hit industries from the COVID-19 pandemic, banks were not loaning money to hotels.

Patel continued to update the defendant on his progress in making repairs to the property and to provide documentation as requested. Drawings of the proposed renovations to the property were provided to the defendant by the plaintiff. The complaint states that after the drawings were submitted, Patel believed that he needed a professional to assist with obtaining approval of the plans.

In February 2021, the plaintiff hired the engineering firm of Badger Engineering to assist with the plans for the renovated building. Badger Engineering provided plans for the new building to the defendant and to the state of Indiana for approval.

The complaint states that the plaintiff has been working with its insurance carrier and state and local officials to repair the property since it was damaged in 2019, but progress has been delayed because of the COVID-19 global pandemic and labor and material shortages.

Since the original Oct. 17, 2019, order, the complaint states the defendant held about 18 review hearings concerning the Economy Inn, all of which Patel, the president of Hari Om Inc., attended, with the exception of the June 22, 2021, meeting. Some of the meetings, Patel attended alone, but other times with his engineer and the insurance claims adjuster, the complaint states.

Patel believes he provided all the information that the defendant requested and does not recall receiving written notice of the June 22, 2021, hearing, “nor did plaintiff believe that after the May 2021 review hearing defendant would be requesting an order for demolition as plaintiff had complied with defendant’s numerous requests,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit states the June 22 demolition order entered by the hearing officer “does not meet the statutory requirements for the entry of the demolition order”; “the hearing officer did not make the required findings to support the entry or affirmation of a demolition order for the property”; and “the demolition order entered by the hearing officer on June 22, 2021, is not supported by sufficient evidence and testimony.” It also states that the plaintiff did not receive a demolition order or notice that the defendant was going to request a demolition order until after the June 22 hearing.

From a review of the June 22 hearing minutes, the complaint states, it appears that the demolition order “was based on the plaintiff’s alleged lack of communication with the defendant and the property repairs not yet being complete.” The minutes also state that Hewitt told Earhart there was “no communication with the property owner.” The complaint states that Patel, his engineer and the claim adjuster “have been in constant communication” with Hewitt.