Additional comment from MiddleTown Properties has been added to the original version of this story.
MUNCIE, Ind. − Protests that started this last weekend against MiddleTown Properties, a Muncie landlord and property management company with more than 1,000 local properties, arrived at Muncie City Council Monday night.
Ball State University students and others lined up in council chambers to complain about living conditions in their dwellings, from sewage backing up into showers to a simple lack of ready hot water at rental units marketed as being luxury apartments.
Seth Rawlings told the council that the rental company was landlord for a basement rental unit in a house on Alameda Avenue where he resided.
“Our toilet broke, and we didn’t have access to a toilet for three weeks,” he told Council. “The company wouldn’t come out. There was no way to make them do it.”
He said neighbors provided renters at his house a key to so they could use their toilet. About the same time, he said, “we would have feces come up out of our shower.” Neighbors also let residents use their shower for a time.
Rawlings said other renters faced trouble with MiddleTown.
“It happens pretty commonly,” he said. “It’s the mold. It’s the coming in for showings without notice.”
A one point, Rawlings said the landlords showed his apartment without notice while he was sleeping in his underwear.
MiddleTown manages rental properties near the university and has a division of their company called BSU Rentals. In a statement sent to The Star Press Thursday, MiddleTown said it wants to work with local officials to resolve the problems.
“We hope to collaborate with city leaders to address issues related to tenant housing,” the statement read. “We are committed to improving in all aspects of our business to protect the livelihoods of the more than 100 people we employ in Delaware County and ensure students and residents have the ability to find rental housing in Muncie.”
MiddleTown reacts with email to officials saying it could leave Muncie
Council President Jeff Robinson said MiddleTown has sent an email to him and to other elected officials after protesters appeared at the company’s leasing offices in The Village. The demonstration attracted attention from some Indianapolis television stations.
Robinson described of the communication from Derek Wilson, who co-owns MiddleTown with his brother Dane Wilson, as a “threat” to elected officials. A copy of The email was addressed to various Muncie city and Delaware County officials.
The email invited officials to tour their operations and said “We are not going to respond publicly to the inane accusations as it will only add fuel to the fire” but said officials could inquire about any individual complaint and information would be shared reflecting both sides of the problem.
“The reality is, we are bringing to focus absolutely ridiculous real estate conditions the City of Muncie has allowed to exist for decades,” Wilson stated in the email. “Like it or not, we are working to better this environment one property at a time (which often means evicting a tenant paying
The statement went on.
“We manage well over 1,000 units in Muncie − remember we are your constituents too. If you want, I’ll take the time and calculate the value of the property taxes we and our clients pay. It is a million+ dollars and increases annually due to OUR activity,” the correspondence said.
Wilson then indicated in the letter, which is now a public record, that the business could move from Muncie.
“We have constant offers from New York hedge funds, private equity funds and international investors to buy our entire operation and all real estate.,” the email said. “It is tempting to cash out, but right now we’re committed! However, it’s getting to be an exhausting battle.”
The missive then said MiddleTown was being lured to the Indianapolis area.
“We’ve are having discussions with Fishers, Carmel, Indianapolis about moving our headquarters and jobs ,,, no decisions have been made at the moment,” the email said. “We are your friends, please remember that. You will likely not find two other people more invested in Muncie besides Dane and myself.”
According to the email, Middletown employs more than 100 people and 30 of those are Ball State University graduates. All MiddleTown jobs pay more than $15 an hour and come with benefits. The company operates in more than 20 markets across Indiana and manages more than 3,300 units.
“What am I paying $1,400 a month for?”; Maintenance won’t respond to requests
Complaints to the council came from residents other than those involved in student housing. Heidi Shaw said representatives.
“It’s not only the issues of the deplorable conditions,” said Heidi Vaughn, who said she recently moved from Streeter Court Apartments managed by MiddleTown. “We also have the invasion of the maintenance personnel. I’m an elderly person who lives by myself. Generally my door is locked but they do tend to walk in on single women .. There’s other issues that need to be addressed.”
MiddleTown is the manger at White River Lofts, the downtown project aimed at spearheading residential redevelopment in the district. The property management firm was hired by WS Property Group, the developer and owner of the project.
Nick Atlas, a tenant at White River, said he moved to Muncie from Washington D.C. He said apartments in the new development were sold as luxury but he has lived in luxury apartments and White River Lofts are not.
He said maintenance personnel are slow to respond to the point he fix an air conditioning problem himself. There were also issues where the hot water takes 20 to 30 minutes to actually get hot.
“What am I paying $1,400 a month for?,” he repeatedly asked.
Atlas noted that the community had been supported of MiddleTown and he requested that any support stop.
“I’m asking you not to let these people thrive,” he said to council.
MiddleTown is also property manger at MarketPlace on Madison, the commercial redevelopment project at the former Southway Plaza.
Legislation proposed, but shelved
Council members unanimously adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly to give local authorities more power to deal with landlord issues. State Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, appeared at the meeting with some of the tenants to endorse the resolution and say that the General Assembly took power away from local government to regulate tenant/landlord relationships. That bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb but was overridden.
The legislation and override came in the 2020 General Assembly session, with Holcomb objecting to the measure regarding landlord property rights coming for tenants during the throes of the pandemic. Landlord-tenant rights and relationships have been a topic at the General Assembly since.
Council President Jeff Robinson said the resolution asking the General Assembly to take further action to protect tenant rights would be made available to other local government councils and board in Indiana so they could also forward to their state legislators.
Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour told The Star Press at the meeting that he also supported the resolution
Earlier this year the General Assembly had a bill to put Indiana in step with 45 other states by implementing a tenant right to enforce basic habitability standards in their rental homes but it did not make it out of committee. The bill was moved to be studied for future consideration.
“We didn’t have time to do it, as much as I would have liked to,” Jim Buck, R- Kokomo, told the Indianapolis Star during a committee hearing on that bill.
Buck said he was sympathetic to the idea.
The legislation would have given tenants the right to withhold rent when landlords fail to make needed repairs and the right to make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from the next rental payment, if the landlord fails to do so within 30 days.