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Indianapolis Women Thanks God for 8 years of Free Rent in Forgotten House

( [email protected] ) Sep 22, 2014 02:35 PM EDT

Lisa Hardy
(Photo : Indy Star)
Lisa Hardy takes care of the house that has taken care of her family for the last 8 years.

Lisa Hardy has many things to thank God about, like children playing in her yard, potted plants on her front porch, and a nice vegetable garden growing out back. She is also very thankful for the roof over her head.

What she doesn't have to go along with that sometimes leaky roof, is legal rights to the property she calls home.

For nearly a decade, the mother of three has lived for free in a three-bedroom house that doesn't really belong to her. In fact, as far as she can tell, the house belonged to no one until recently; or at least no one who has claimed it.

No landlord or out-of-state bank has ever shown up to demand rent from Hardy. In fact the property taxes went unpaid for all those years, too.

As the years went by, Hardy lived in the 1,490-square-foot house, and kept quiet about the legal ownership of the home. She took care of the place and the small yard. She paid for utilities every month, and even got a security system.

The security system gave her peace of mind, but her real security came from her belief in a higher power at work.

"I thanked God every single day," she told the Indy Star. "There's not one day I haven't thanked the good Lord for the opportunity to live here without rent."

Recently the house was sold at a city surplus sale in July fro $7,500, and Hardy, 51 is praying the new owner will do some needed repairs and then rent the house back to her.

According to Roger Rayburn of Christian Legal Clinic, Hardy's story is "kind of a bizarre case."

The clinic has dealt with lots of people facing foreclosure and a few squatters over the years, but seldom someone like Hardy, who is neither, he said. Her case seems to be an odd fallout from the mortgage meltdown that hit Indianapolis starting around 2004 and left the city with thousands of abandoned and foreclosed houses, Rayburn said.

Hardy came to live in the house when she was working as a leasing agent for Showhomes Property Management in early 2005. It was then she was blessed with the offer to live in the house.

Showhomes told Hardy she could move into one of its houses and live there rent-free for as long as she worked at the company.

"They said, 'Pick out a house,'" Hardy said. So she did: a two-story, aluminum-sided house on Eastern, built in 1910.

The place had just been cleaned and made tenant-ready. It had a porch and parking pad off the alley and was perfect for Hardy, her longtime boyfriend and their two teenage sons (a daughter would be born a year later).

The good news didn't last, though. Showhomes laid off Hardy in early 2006 when the housing crisis was in full effect, and then went out of business a few months later.

No one from Showhomes ever contacted her about the house, Hardy said, but she did continue to pay the utilities bills in her name. She found out later that Showhomes owner was charged with multiple crimes by the federal government relating to fraud, and is now serving time in federal prison.

Hardy said she received property tax bills in someone elses name, but when she called the city to ask about them, she was told not to pay them if she wasn't the owner.

For Hardy, the house provided a safe haven when she started suffering bouts of manic depression that kept her from getting a job and led to her receiving federal disability payments. Her boyfriend also couldn't hang onto a steady job and eventually moved out.

Hardy said the house helped her sons stay out of trouble while teenagers by giving them a permanent, safe place they could call their own. They are now 22 and 23 and living on their own. Her daughter, a third-grader, now has her own room in the house and attends school just six blocks away.

While nearby houses on Eastern fell into disrepair and were taken up by vandals and squatters, Hardy's house seem shielded from the problems of the neighborhood. She said she never had a break-in.

All around her, houses were abandoned over the last eight years and one was torn down. In the rear along the alley, five houses in a row stand naked and vacant, stripped of their siding and other items that were sold for scrap.

One reason Hardy said she didn't move out: She couldn't bear to see her house become prey to vandals - As the roof protected her, she also somehow protected the house.

The auction buyer is a Singapore investment company named CTL Global Holdings, which has been buying houses all over the US.

In an email interview with the Indy Star, CTL's founder and group managing director, Clara Tan Lisin, said her company plans to spend at least $15,000 to renovate the house where Hardy lives.

Lisin said CTL would be happy to rent to Hardy, and Hardy said she has more to be thankful for after hearing about CTL's offer.