Rising rents leave Omaha tenants struggling to keep up

Known for affordability, Omaha sees massive rise in rent as neighborhood landlords fade

Apartment 133 at Parkwood Terrace has served as more than a mailing address for Marianne Clark over the past quarter-century. 

It’s where she got to know her grandson when he was a toddler. It’s where her ailing brother spent the last months of his life. 

The 75-year-old retiree figured the Omaha complex would be her “forever home.” 

Clark even planned ahead for when her forever ended. She bought a blue-and-white biodegradable urn with a seashell carved into the front and told friends how she would like her ashes set out to sea in the Florida Gulf.

But days ago, she drove the urn she never thought she’d move from Parkwood Terrace to a new apartment complex in northwest Omaha. Had she stayed at her old place, the rent would have risen by more than 50% this month. 

Omaha has long held a national reputation for affordability, but for renters, housing has become increasingly expensive, far outpacing inflation in most cases.

The average studio apartment in the metro area costs $955 a month. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a 45% increase from 2014, according to a Flatwater Free Press analysis of federal estimates

It’s not just big-city dwellers strained by rising rent. Tenants in places like Grand Island and Kearney have seen rents spike by hundreds of dollars in the last decade.

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The increased cost of maintaining, insuring and paying taxes on rental properties has driven rent upward, landlords and economists say.

But investment firms buying up apartment buildings from small-time local landlords has also spurred rent hikes in cities across the country, said John Johnson, a Marquette University Law School researcher.

That’s what happened at Parkwood Terrace. 

Clark and many longtime tenants exited starting last year after the mom-and-pop landlord who owned the property for decades sold it to an out-of-state real estate investment firm.

Under the new ownership, tenants who had enjoyed below-market rent received offers to renew their leases at much higher rates.

Chase Hudson, the co-founder of Utah-based Parkwest Real Estate, said his company bought Parkwood Terrace intending to raise rents to market rate and create a higher quality of life for residents by investing heavily in improvements.

“We’re trying to enhance the value of the community and the lifestyle of the residents,” Hudson said. “It’s not our intention to just come in and be raising rents without justification.”

Clark is going with her gut to move out, even though she won’t be saving much money on rent at her new apartment. She took issue with how the faraway owners and their local property managers did business at Parkwood Terrace.

Marianne Clark places a biodegradable urn in her car on Friday, May 31, as part of a move from Parkwood Terrace to a new west Omaha apartment. Clark, 75, told her friends where to find the urn at her old apartment complex in case of an emergency. Jeremy Turley / The Flatwater Free Press

Though she’s at peace with her decision, the longtime tenant said it’s heartbreaking to leave behind the community she has known for more than a third of her life.

“I shed many tears. It’s just that there are so many memories here,” she said weeks before the move.

‘Left some income on the table’

The Belgrade family built Parkwood Terrace in the early 1990s amid a frenzy of development in Omaha’s western neighborhoods.

But as time wore on, the more things changed in west Omaha, the more they stayed the same at the 126-unit complex off 93rd Street.

The quiet surroundings, spacious apartments and consistently low rent bills meant many tenants re-signed their leases year after year.

The residents, many older than 50, often gathered for coffee on Tuesday mornings and wine and cheese on Fridays at the property’s clubhouse. It was a tight-knit community, fostered by the well-liked Jim Belgrade, who lived on site and managed the property, Clark said.

The owners emphasized retaining good tenants and “probably left some income on the table by not charging enough,” said Bob Belgrade, Jim’s brother.

In September, a letter from Jim Belgrade landed at residents’ doors informing them of a surprising change: the property would soon be under new management.

The Belgrades had agreed to sell Parkwood Terrace for $16.7 million.

The new owners, Parkwest, hired the Lund Company to manage the property and commissioned a $2.5 million facelift that included in-unit upgrades, exterior improvements, a dog park, a fire pit and a new pickleball court, Hudson said.

Founded in 2022 near Salt Lake City, Parkwest has amassed a portfolio featuring four large apartment complexes — two in San Antonio and one in Council Bluffs to go along with Parkwood Terrace. 

The company’s investor-oriented website spells out its business model: buy multifamily properties, add value through renovations or redevelopment and sell them within three to seven years.

In the months before residents’ leases expired at Parkwood Terrace, they received notices that their rent would skyrocket by hundreds of dollars if they stayed, four current and former tenants told Flatwater.

Andy Vuorela, a lawyer and therapist, said the monthly rent on his one-bedroom apartment would have risen from $750 to $1,240 had he re-signed. Instead, he recently moved in with his girlfriend.

Most residents knew the Belgrades had given them a great deal and their rent would probably rise under new ownership, but the massive hike felt cold-blooded, Vuorela said.

Andy Vuorela, an Omaha lawyer and therapist, stands in front of the Douglas County courthouse. Vuorela, who voluntarily represents tenants facing eviction, moved out of Parkwood Terrace earlier this year. Jeremy Turley / The Flatwater Free Press

Many older tenants on fixed incomes couldn’t bear the $500 increase and had to scramble for a new place, Vuorela said.

After years of below-market rents, the new rates put Parkwood Terrace in alignment with what comparable Omaha properties charge, Hudson said.

“That’s where sticker shock is coming from,” Hudson said. “When they get a renewal notice for a large increase, it’s really just, ‘Hey, this is where the market is now, and you’ve had the benefit of 10 years of really low rent.’”

“We feel for residents that have had to make a decision to leave the property,” he added.

Bob Belgrade blames his own “bad habit” of not adjusting longtime tenants’ rent for the whiplash they have experienced under the new owners.

“Them raising rent, it’s not greedy ownership – it’s them trying to stay up with the rest of the world,” he told Flatwater.

Tight margins

Parkwood Terrace’s rent hike is atypical since most landlords raise rates gradually. But there have been noticeable jumps in rent across the metro area since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Rising property taxes and insurance and the inflated cost of materials and workers to maintain rental units has forced landlords to raise rents, said Rick McDonald, president of the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association.

Omaha’s shortage of affordable starter homes paired with nationally high mortgage rates is keeping many young people in the rental market for longer, said University of Nebraska at Omaha economics professor Chris Decker. That added demand pushes rents higher still.

It’s a familiar picture in urban areas across the country. And while a studio apartment is still cheaper in Omaha than in Chicago or the Twin Cities, the average rent has risen at similar rates across all three metros since 2014.

Rent increases have also affected parts of rural Nebraska, especially in fast-growing smaller cities like Grand Island and Kearney.

There’s simply not enough rental housing to go around for low-income residents, so landlords can hold out for the highest bidder, said Cheryl Holcomb, director of Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit that connects veterans and people experiencing homelessness with housing.

Often, three or four families pile into a single house to split the cost of rent, Holcomb said. 

In Omaha, the tighter margins have chased some small neighborhood landlords out of the business in recent years, said McDonald, who owns and manages a handful of rental homes. Increasingly, out-of-state real estate investment firms are swooping in to take their place, he said.

Investment companies have been buying and selling apartment complexes for decades, but large companies like Ohio-based Vinebrook began snagging single-family homes in cities like Omaha at the tail end of the Great Recession, said Johnson, the Marquette University researcher.

Distant investment firms tend to raise rent more aggressively and evict tenants more frequently than small local landlords, Johnson said. On the other hand, the firms may be less discriminatory in choosing tenants, he said.

In Omaha, Vuorela plans to petition city leaders to limit how much property owners can legally raise rent in a single year. Tenants should have some protection against landlords jacking up rent more than 50% as they did at Parkwood Terrace, he said.

California, Oregon and several major cities have passed similar rent-increase laws in recent years, while Florida, Ohio and Montana moved to outlaw local rent control.

Susie Marquiss has rented an apartment at Parkwood Terrace for the last eight years. Unlike some of her friends, she renewed her lease for another year. “All the friendships are kind of being broken,” she said. Jeremy Turley / The Flatwater Free Press

Susie Marquiss sees the impact of Parkwood Terrace’s ownership change and rent hike all around her as neighbors pack up and leave.

The 76-year-old retiree previously owned a home but moved to the complex eight years ago in search of community. She found it in friends like Clark and helped build it up with the homemade banana-chocolate chip muffins she delivered to sick and recovering tenants.

Marquiss signed on to stay at the complex for another year, but it hurts to watch her friends drive away in moving trucks, she said.

“All the friendships are kind of being broken. Fractured would be a good word – fractured or torn to where now we aren’t going to be in our community,” Marquiss said. “We’ll be in different places, and that is very hard.”

By Jeremy Turley

Jeremy Turley covers the Omaha metro area. He worked at newspapers across the Midwest before moving to Nebraska. Most recently, he shivered through several frigid winters in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he covered state government and the COVID-19 pandemic for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri and a native of suburban Chicago. His hobbies include disc golfing, collecting campaign buttons and using too many em dashes — or so his editors say.


People like me can’t afford to have the rent Raised up because of ssi people do not make enough to make rent afford for people that have low income lower their bills the people can’t work and they hurt them Even more then they have to trying to work when they can’t health Problems Is the vantaine to work

Hello Jeremy, I am a resident of Parkwood Terrace and found your article well balanced and fair. I am dismayed, however, that you chose to interview individuals with “an axe to grind”. I do understand the sticker shock some folks have experience, however…I was paying much higher rent than these long-term residents…I was carrying them with my higher rent. Far from being equitable. My rent for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath was $1145.00/ month, while the same apartment was renting for $750.00/month. Although their intentions were sorta admirable, the Belgrade’s created this mess with their leasing strategy. I am dismayed by the actions of these 3 tenants and quite frankly, you have been sucked down the rabbit hole!

Wow so sorry this article offended you. You probably should go back and re-read the article since you seem to have missed the point of why this was written. It was written regarding how these people from out of state are buying these mom and pop complexes around the country. I guess if you had water in your apartment 5 times in one month and numerous maintenance requests since October of 2023 to clean the gutters so the apartment would not take on water. Not to mention it warped my TV console which I had to replace. You have a right to your opinion as I do. For I did not leave Parkwood due to rent…..I left because Lund Company is known to be worse management company in Omaha. As far as the Belgrades they are a reputable company and had empathy for their tenants. Seems to me you have a chip on shoulder and a axe to grind with the Belgrades.

Believe it or not some rental property owners do care about their renters. I’m a small rental property owner. This is our retirement so we try to be responsive to our tenants and still attempt to get a reasonable return on our investment. That being said the one thing none of us can control are the real estate taxes and insurance costs.
I’m getting very tired of our Mayor and her underlings go on television and tell everyone how we must have affordable housing in Omaha.
The next day I get my new values on the rental property I own. Do the math Mayor when the real estate taxes increase by 20% or more in one year I can either not maintain the property, sell it , go broke or raise the rent.
Let’s say the greedy property owner raises the rent. In many cases the rent increase might stop the bleeding but in truth you can’t raise the rent enough to stay even with the run away taxes and insurance costs.I realize the majority of the people reading this could care less if the greedy property owner’s taxes go up …. But you should. I would be happy to lock in a tenants rent for a 3 to 5 year term…. The catch?? You pay whatever the taxes & insurance increases each year. How about that idea Mayor?

The Mayor continues to tell us we need affordable housing. The next day the property owner of the rental property get’s the new tax statement.It’s increased by 20% or more and the Mayor keeps telling everyone about the need for affordable rent. Do you see any connection with the problem Mayor? Maybe it’s because you want to attract votes from the renters but your comments are not what you are doing to change anything but driving rents higher..

I am a local landlord and homeowner. Something needs to be done across the board. Cost are skyrocketing on homeownership for people with fixed incomes.

I feel bad for tenants because the county accessor, insurance companies, and repairs crews absolutely make it impossible to sustain any rent stabilization desires a sympathetic landlord might ever have.

Tenants also mistakenly think small landlords have unlimited money supplies and view the landlord as evil for making repairs demands or even small rental increases, when in some or many cases the landlord is just about carrying the tenant for free.

Example – If tenant pays $800 a month rent -the mortgage on the property to bank is $400 or $500 a month with tax and insurance, the tenant is staying in the property for $300 a month to the landlord. If one roof leaks, air-conditioning unit goes out and the repair is $5000. Well then the landlord is coming out of their pocket to sustain the tenant and their living condition not at a profit but at a loss. ($300×12 months is only $3,600 so a $5k repair leaves a $1,400 deficit that will take two months into the next year to dream of overcoming) Good luck catching up with tax and insurance increases each year.

The State legislature (if it cared about city health, but it does not, or even better if it wants to avoid tons of city dwellers moving out to your remote rural settings) should do more to support Mom and pop landlord activities and support rent stability. We are heading for a disaster.

I know this will be read and many will say (bad business model and it’s the landlords fault if they don’t set rents high enough) but understand, THAT IS THE PROBLEM people can’t afford the higher house and rent cost. Wages are not keeping pace. The States business model is bad and going to lead to a collapse structure in housing and homelessness.

Completely agree…we’ve sold off all but one of our rental properties as it’s just not profitable any more. I would add there needs to also be a limit on how much property taxes can increase annually. When you’re hit with a 35 to 50% increase in property taxes in one year on top of everything else, it’s not sustainable for landlords or owners who occupy their own homes.

High rent is every where.
Wonder how long Americans can carry the burden of to current economy? Many retired Americans live in a fixed income without a retirement portfolio. Social Security does not keep up with inflation and shark companies.

My old apartments doubled my rent in 1 month.couldnt keep up was evicted within 3 months.iwas dumb for redoing my lease .I’m still not into a place and about to be homeless

I am continually shocked at the City’s willingness to afford TIF benefits to investors building unaffordable housing. Seems like an analysis of why taxes have increased so dramatically may be worthwhile.

Those curious about these topics may want to read up on the class action litigation and investigations associated with RealPage, Yardi Inc, and Yardi Inc’s “Rent Maximizer” product, which have gained attention from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. These companies have developed products for residential rental property owners to automate management, collect rent, and maximize revenue. The United States created Federal statutes to restrict activities such as monopolization. collusion, and price setting. History can be circular with current relevance.

Sherman Act of 1890,
Clayton Act of 1914
Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914

The rapid acquisition of residential rental properties by out-of-state investment companies that outsource property management to regional/national management companies makes this a topic of interest for many Americans. The investment rental real estate market in Nebraska is attractive with no rent control laws and minimal protections for renters.



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