Neighbors, HOA claim northwest Carmel home operating as illegal short-term rental


Christin Diehl wasn’t thrilled earlier this year when she began to suspect the house next door to hers in northwest Carmel was being used as a short-term rental, but initially she didn’t consider it much more than a nuisance.

As the weather grew warmer and the house’s backyard pool opened, gatherings grew larger and her family experienced more negative impacts, she said, such as the smell of marijuana wafting into her yard and increased traffic on the once-quiet cul-de-sac.

“It’s like 24/7 spring break happening next door,” Diehl said. “The (renters) are there for a short period of time, and they’re there to party. They go hard the whole time they’re there, all day.”

Diehl said the situation escalated to a new level July 7 when first responders removed multiple renters from the home on stretchers. She described the incident as appearing to be a “mass drug overdose” discovered when a person walking a dog down the street found an unconscious person in the front yard of the home.

Tim Griffin, a spokesperson for the Carmel Fire Department, said HIPAA laws prevented him from sharing details about the incident but confirmed medics responded to the home that day.

Rebecca Carl, chief marketing officer for the City of Carmel, stated in an email that the city is “concerned about the medical emergency that occurred at a residence in our community this past weekend” and acknowledged the incident is distressing for local residents.

“The home where this occurred was operating as an illegal short-term rental as the city does not allow non-owner-occupied rentals. The city has also had multiple conversations with the owner about the illegality of this rental property prior to this incident,” Carl stated. “Further information is still being collected which may lead to additional enforcement action from the city, including reviewing our code enforcement practices.”

City code prohibits homes from being used as short-term rentals unless the property owner – who must be the primary resident of the home – receives an exception from a Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals hearing officer. The hearing officer may grant exceptions for a specified number of days per year and the property owner must apply for the exception annually.

According to Serena Burkard, whose company, Vacation Homes LLC, owns the property, the home is not intended to be rented out for less than 30 days at a time, the minimum allowed by city code without receiving an exception. Burkard told Current the home is her primary residence but that she has been out of town much of the time since purchasing it in March.

“I can’t control if (renters) stay for 30 days, but they have to book for a minimum of 30 days,” Burkard said, adding that she expects a long-term renter to sign a 10-month lease soon.

The listing for the property on the short-term rental site Vrbo does not specify that the home must be rented for at least 30 days, and Current was able to select a much shorter time frame when going through the early steps of booking the property.

Burkard said the person renting the home when the medical emergency occurred over the weekend did not report the incident to her but only communicated that they had left the property.

“I don’t know what happened,” Burkard said. “I wasn’t there. Nobody contacted me. I didn’t find out about this until I saw it (online).”

Diehl said she has contacted the City of Carmel about the violation and spoke with a code enforcement official, who told her there is little the city can do in this scenario to enforce the ordinance. The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment on enforcement.

Samantha Karn, corporation counsel for the City of Carmel, said the city can issue citations for each day an illegal short-term rental has active listings on host sites. She said this type of citation would require a mandatory court appearance.

City Councilor Ryan Locke, who represents the Northwest District, said councilors are working with Mayor Sue Finkam to “ensure action is taken immediately.”

“The incident this weekend is abhorrent, unacceptable and should never have happened,” Locke said. “The neighborhood has a lawful prohibition against short term rentals under their HOA’s Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, and the city’s ordinance does not allow short term rentals without a city-granted special Exception. Further, city code provides protections against nuisance properties, and illegal drug use is in fact illegal everywhere.”

According to Diehl, her neighborhood’s homeowners association rules are even stricter than city code about limiting short-term rentals. The Cheswick Place Homeowners Association sued Vacation Homes LLC in April, asking a judge to halt the rentals. A summary judgment hearing is set for Sept. 9 before Hamilton County Judge Jonathan Brown.

Cheswick Place HOA President David Morton said the property owner did not respond to multiple notifications about the violation sent to Vacation Homes LLC before the lawsuit was filed.

For now, Diehl said her family continues to deal with the impacts of living next door to frequent large-group gatherings of strangers.

“My 7-year-old’s best friend lives five houses down. They used to run back and forth to each other’s house constantly, and now they don’t do that. They have to be supervised going back and forth,” she said. “The large groups are really intimidating for my kids. They used to play basketball in the driveway all the time and play on our toys outside, and now they won’t do that if there are people out there. It’s totally disrupting everyone’s lives in this neighborhood.”