Omaha tenants at senior living facility upset with high rent increases

Keystone Villa residents are fed up with sudden and steep rent hikes.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 10:15 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Residents at a senior living facility in Omaha are upset with sudden rent increases and allegedly confusing information from management.

Joan Wojtkiewicz has lived at Keystone Villas’ Independent Living section for the past two years.

But now, she’s not sure what to do after management sent her a notice on Dec. 9 stating her rent would be going up starting Feb. 1.

“They would be raising my rent from $618 to $770. That’s a 25% raise,” says Wojtkiewicz.

But she’s not the only one affected.

More than a dozen residents from Assisted and Independent living shared the same frustration at the complex west of 72nd & Military Avenue.

“$869, and then it jumped. We haven’t paid it yet, but the next payment, if we’re going to make the payment would be $1,100,” say residents Bobby and Judy Smith.

Many of the residents at Keystone are on Social Security, and some are on disability. It makes it tough for them to pick up and move easily. The residents tell 6 News they pay their rent month to month, and some say they haven’t signed a lease since they first moved there.

“I asked if it could be negotiated down but she said it’s not negotiable,” says Wojtkiewicz.

We asked Keystone Villas what’s behind the rent increase. In a written response, the executive director explains the increase followed a detailed analysis of the rents currently being paid as compared to the costs of maintaining the individual apartments, the services to those apartments, and the shared common area.

The explanation goes on to say the operators performed a market analysis of similar rental properties in the area that provide the same or similar services and residential options. Based on this review, they thought the rate increase was appropriate.

The notice residents received didn’t explain any of that. So when they asked about the increase, they say they received different answers.

“She said because of the cost of living and COVID,” says Wojtkiewicz.

“The person that I talked to said it’s because of a raise in Social Security as the reason why they increased it,” says Bobby Smith.

Now they’re left wondering what they’re getting for their money.

“They have not maintained the premises like they should,” says Wojtkiewicz. “The carpet out here has not been vacuumed for three weeks.”

“Bed bugs and cockroaches, I’ve got a sink in my kitchen that’s been stopped up for two weeks and I told them about it and I put in three work orders to have it fixed and no one has been up to fix it,” says resident Marco Botello.

“I have a stove and every time you turn it on, smoke would go all over the place and would go up and start the alarms,” says Judy Smith.

“We got tired of them saying it was our fault for bringing the fire department out, so we stopped using the stove and we bought an air fryer. That’s the only way. We have to use the air fryer,” says Bobby Smith.

“Ever since I moved in I was like ‘can you come shampoo my carpet?’ I kept getting a ‘we’re working on it, we’re working on it,’ and nothing,” says resident Rhonda Hackett.

“You can put in work orders and they’ll say ‘oh yeah we got it we’ll be over to take care of it right away,’ and you never see them,” says Bobby Smith.

Keystone Villas claims it has not left any requests unanswered.

Management also tells 6 News the buildings are undergoing a complete renovation of the units, which they claim started in November 2022.

What’s also leaving residents confused is how much each rent increase varies, from tenant to tenant.

Two different residents showed us the notices they received.

One is seeing a 30% increase in their rent and the other is seeing a 63% increase.

Keystone Management says this was based on the prior rent being paid on, and the amount needed to bridge to the new base rent for each unit.

The question is: can a landlord raise the rent as much as they want?

In Nebraska, yes. There’s no state law that puts a cap on how much a landlord can increase the rent.

The Fair Housing Center tells 6 News that as long as they have proper notice, there aren’t any protections for residents.

Right now, residents like Joan are worried they’ll be evicted.

“I would like to have them at least talk to us, or at least do it in a way that can be staggered. For me, it’s impossible to do, I have a loan I have to pay off, I can’t pay. If I pay off this loan and pay off the rent, I cannot buy food,” says Wojtkiewicz.

“I just feel that they’re taking advantage of us,” says Botello.

Many of the residents tell 6 News they were advised to apply for the Section 8 voucher program, but the wait list can be long. We asked Keystone Villas Management if they’re accepting vouchers but we did not receive an answer to that question.