By Brittani Howell, Robin Tate Rockel
Indiana is one of the toughest states for renters, with laws that overwhelmingly favor landlords and some of the highest eviction rates in the country. Finding a place to rent can be intimidating, especially when the news is full of well-documented stories of bad actor landlords who don’t maintain properties or respond to complaints. How do you know which rental companies or landlords are worth working with?
If you’re looking for a new place to live, here are a few tips to help you get started with research.
How to find your apartment’s owner
Many cities have a parcel map or geographic information system (GIS) data you can access to find property boundaries and property owners. See if your town or city does. If you can’t find it through a Google search, try asking local information hubs like the library, the county clerk’s office or a local reporter at the newspaper or radio station covering your area.
In Marion County, you can find the parcel information at maps.indy.gov. Select the Indy Zoning Browser. If you know the address of the property you’re interested in, enter it into the search bar at the top left of the page and select it from the drop-down menu. The property should appear on the map along with a little window with the parcel number and owner name — both of which will be helpful for you for further research.
You’ll notice the owner name might not look like a person: It’s more likely a corporation or an LLC. For your purposes, that’s probably enough to figure out whether a property is somewhere you want to stay – some people prefer to rent directly from individuals they can contact easily over corporations they can’t.
For people living in Indianapolis, if the unit you’re looking at is in a big apartment complex, check out EvictionLab’s profile. A little less than midway down the page, there’s a heading called “Eviction Hotspots.” Look there to see if the complex you’re considering is on the list.
Look into the owner
See if your city has a portal for local zoning. For instance, using the Indy Zoning Browser, you can learn more about your property’s owner by seeing what other properties they own. Enter that owner name back into the search bar: Just click the downward-pointing arrow next to the search bar and select “Search by Owner Name.” Remember to choose the option that populates in the drop-down menu. (It won’t work if you just hit enter. You have to choose the menu option.) Click on each individual entry (yes, even though they all look the same) to see each individual property. You can research those properties as well if you’re curious to see if they’ve reported any issues.
A quick Google search of the owner’s name is an obvious first step to see if anything turns up. But for a more targeted search, take a look at health code violations. Indianapolis-based community data center SAVI ran an analysis of the evicting property owners who receive the most health department complaints and compiled their findings. The report draws from data gathered between January 2022 and June 2022, so it’s a little out of date, but it’s still useful information.
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You might also try entering the address or parcel number you’re interested in in your local health department’s portal for open investigations, like the Marion County Health Department’s records portal. It will let you see if there are any past or ongoing investigations into a property you might be interested in.
Not all complaints will be directed at the landlord — a complaint of trash or junk in the yard is more likely to have been filed by a neighbor looking at the mess — but other complaints, like mold or pests, might have been reported to the health department because the landlord wasn’t responsive. You’ll have to do your own digging to find out more – and most counties may not have searchable databases – but this can be a helpful tool for research.
Don’t forget to look up the property management company
Sometimes an owner turns the running and maintenance of their property over to a management company. That means it’s more likely the property manager that you need to research. Look around on the listings of the apartments you’re interested in to see who created the listing, and go to their websites to determine whether they’re an owner or a property management company. (Hint: If it’s a property management company, it’s going to have some content on the website for owners about how to sign up for their services.)
Look up reviews for the property management company. Don’t just look at the star ratings. Owners can leave those reviews too, and the interests of owners and renters don’t always align. Go through the reviews to identify ones written by renters.
And don’t discount word of mouth!
People like to compare their experiences! Hit the neighborhood Facebook pages or, if your community has one, its subreddit. In Marion County, the r/Indianapolis subreddit is full of people comparing experiences with local services including landlords and property managers.
Reaching out directly to collectives of tenants might be helpful as well. Patchwork Indy and the Tenants Rights Union through the Ross Foundation both collect stories from tenants. Check their social media pages and websites to see if they have any anecdotes or reports about particular landlords or property management groups.
Reach out to us!
Housing is a huge issue for people throughout Indiana, and our reporters are keeping an eye on situations throughout the state. If you have a question you’d like to ask or a situation you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it. Reach out to WFYI’s Brittani Howell (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Robin Rockel (email@example.com). You can also join the conversation through Indiana Public Broadcasting’s text group, the Indiana Two-Way. Just text “Indiana” to 73224, and you’ll receive weekly statewide news updates and questions requesting your feedback.
This guide was produced following community feedback gathered by Side Effects engagement specialist Brittani Howell and Indiana Public Broadcasting community engagement manager Robin Rockel. We were inspired by a similar guide produced by KCUR in Kansas City. We would like to thank Matthew Dietrich at the Polis Center for his thoughts and suggestions on this piece.