INDIANAPOLIS — Some residents are scrambling to move their belongings out after a fire last week at a downtown Indianapolis apartment building.

The fire, which happened on Thursday at The Congress at Library Square apartments on N. Meridian Street., led to water damage in at least 40 units. According to Buckingham Companies, 44 units were impacted in total by the fire, 42 of which were occupied at the time.

Residents in those units were given only a few days to pack up their stuff and find a new place to live. Property management said tenants need to be moved out by the end of the day on Tuesday, May 17 so they can begin the mitigation process, considering the water damage and power that’s been cut off.

“They gave us about four days to kind of get everything out,” said resident Chandler Hall. “We’ve been kind of scrambling the last 72 hours or so, but trying to make the best of it.”

Hall was home at the time of the fire and said although his unit was affected, he considers himself lucky it wasn’t worse.

“We were pretty fortunate, I think, compared to some people, but unfortunately it was a little bit of stuff that we couldn’t stay,” said Hall.

“They told us we had to have everything out by Tuesday. Obviously, that’s not an easy task,” said Tom Palmer.

According to Palmer, his unit didn’t fare as well as others. He had just re-signed a lease through July 2023 when the fire happened. He returned later that night to find several inches of water in his apartment and grabbed whatever clothes he could before leaving.

“Anything that was on the ground, especially some wood-based stuff, is pretty warped. A lot of water damage, a couple of inches high,” said Palmer. “Everything’s still pretty wet to this day that was on the ground, which is somewhat surprising to me that it hasn’t dried up too much, but not a lot of ventilation.”

Jana Sherar was at the apartment building on Monday, along with several friends and a family member, working to move belongings into a moving truck and their personal vehicles. Her story is a bit different because she doesn’t live there, her son does, and he’s been out of town since everything happened.

“My son went on vacation with some friends to Washington, D.C. and he called me the other morning and said that something in the apartment complex caught fire and they needed to be moving and then got a text the next day; they said they wanted him out by Tuesday,” said Sherar.

Sherar said her son had been working to find a way to get himself home, either by ground or train, as she worked to help get his belongings out of his unit.

“He wasn’t home. He’s been safe. His apartment, things look safe,” said Sherar.

She said she is thankful his belongings weren’t significantly damaged, but said his power has been off, so his unit was hot and not well-lit, especially over the weekend when she first made the trip from about two hours away to begin the process.

While property management said it has been flexible as needed for residents that need additional time with the move, residents said they felt the last few days have been hectic as they try to find a new place to live, a way to get the contents from their apartment there and just about every logistic in between.

“It’s been very frustrating because you know, it’s not something we planned, and we are two hours away, so it has been difficult,” said Sherar. “Getting a UHaul was 200-something dollars and you know, [my son] doesn’t have a place to live right now, so he’s gonna have to stay with some friends.”

“Obviously no one was hurt, which is great, but we’re getting out as much stuff as we can. We had to call around, couldn’t get a UHaul or anything,” Palmer said. “Timing-wise, probably a lot of students trying to move out right now, too.”

Fortunately for Palmer, his friend has a pickup truck and he was able to use to help move belongings over the weekend. They were able to secure a storage unit in the meantime while they worked to do the same for a new apartment.

Hall said he was able to get some help from his family over the weekend as well. They were in town for his graduation from dental school, which fell in the middle of everything else they were dealing with.

“It’s been a lot to deal with, but I can’t complain too much. I know there’s people a lot worse off,” said Hall. “We were homeless for a couple days before graduation, couple homeless days afterward, but it’s been fine. We’re doing the best we can.”

Hall, who’s from Missouri, said moving wasn’t in his plans right now, but due to what happened, he loaded up the moving truck and will make the eight hour drive home with family.

“Luckily my family has been really helpful. They were kind of up here for this weekend,” Hall added.

In the initial aftermath of the fire, residents were provided with a two nights stay at one of three hotels in Indianapolis, including allowance for room service on the first night, Buckingham Companies said.

The company also added that they made sure there were pet-friendly hotel options, since The Congress allows pets. It said that every apartment home, included those not impacted, were given a gift card for the inconvenience this has caused.

Hall said he stayed at the hotel while figuring out his next steps. For Palmer and his roommate, he said the information they were given when they checked in at the hotel didn’t match what complex management ended up calling to tell them.

“We were told it was gonna be through the weekend. So when we got there, checked in, we asked how long we had the hotel for. They told us it was through Monday, they gave us the keys,” he said, noting that there was a date written on the key of the 16th.

On Saturday, Palmer said they received a call from the management with the apartment complex, saying, “Well you were supposed to check out today, because we’re only covering through those first two days.”

Palmer said they were already past checkout and had left the hotel as they were trying to coordinate their move when the call came in. The two said they were able to figure out the situation, but that it was not what was originally communicated.

Buckingham Companies said it has communicated with residents impacted by the fire and move-out from the first day when the fire occurred.

Hall said he was on scene already and went to the office to learn what the next steps were.

“I got an email after I talked to them that I was one of the ones that was affected, but I was here the whole time, so I was kind of in person about it,” said Hall.

He does believe, however, that there could have been an improved stream of communication throughout the entire ordeal from management to residents impacted.

“Updates could have been a little bit better, but I know you can’t really plan for something like this and you know, I think they’re probably doing the best they can,” said Hall. “It’s unfortunate for everybody involved.”

Sherar said she isn’t entirely sure what the communication has looked like, but that she still has many unanswered questions based on what she’s been able to find out so far.

“They said they will prorate his rent. I don’t know what we’ll get back with that,” said Sherar. “There’s a lot of questions. We don’t know what’s going on really.”

A spokesperson for the company said it is offering transfers to residents to sister properties, an option about 30% of residents impacted have already taken advantage of. It also said they are letting residents out of leases should they choose to go that route and will refund security deposits, along with rent paid for, for the duration of the month.

According to Buckingham Companies, it is working to get prorated rent schedules out by May 17, and as soon as forwarding addresses are received, they will complete the deposit accounting to close out tenants’ accounts. After that, the company said it will mail security deposits. May rent will be adjusted to exclude the 12th through the 31st.

On Monday, the American Red Cross was also on scene, handing out waters and snacks to residents at the complex as the moving trucks lined the perimeter of the building, dollies rolled by with furniture on them and people were fighting the heat to move out unexpectedly.

According to Buckingham Companies, it is working with the Red Cross, which has issued assistance payment to displaced residents and has representatives in the front office providing moving boxes. The company also told FOX59 it is working with the Indiana Apartment Association, which has a relief program and issues direct payments to residents.

Despite the information provided to us, some residents tell FOX59 there are still many unanswered questions about where they go from here, what their renters insurance policy actually covers, and if that includes their personal items damaged or ruined.

The Buckingham Companies said all tenants are required to have renters insurance when they sign a lease. Depending on the plan a tenant chooses, it could cover more in the event of an emergency. Some of the tenants impacted had plans that cover movers, said the company.

Tenants’ rights and what to do when it comes to renters insurance

Michaela Wischmeier, Research and Communications Specialist at Prosperity Indiana, offered the following insight when it comes to what you should know as a renter.

Is it better to get your own renters insurance or select an option offered when signing a lease?

Wischmeier said, the value of people finding their own renters insurance is being able to compare policies for coverage and costs before making a final decision.

Additionally, Wischmeier said they advise everyone to read agreements carefully to be sure of what is or is not allowed or covered by the contract or policy.

When asked what residents should do should they ever find themselves displaced after a fire and needing to leave on short notice, she said, it would depend on each policy and exact coverage that is outlined as far as the next steps.

Wischmeier recommended reaching out to local organizations for immediate assistance with locating short-term housing. One of the resources she suggested people look through for recovering after emergencies, including fires, is the American Red Cross. You can find more information here.

IFD said the cause of the fire remains under investigation as of Monday afternoon.