SYCAMORE – The once brown-brick exterior of the two apartment buildings is now covered with a coat of white paint. New stairs have been built, cement walkways leveled and new appliances soon will be installed in units of the complex now called Carriage House at 471 and 477 E. State St.
Scott Carlson, one of the two new landlords of the property, said those are some of many improvements that he and co-landlord Tim Royer have made in their $200,000 to $400,000 interior and exterior renovation project, at the 20-unit complex. Sycamore also contributed $10,000 to the project as part of the city's gateway exterior improvement initiative.
Carlson said he and Royer have received an exceptional response from the community about the project. He said passers-by have even stopped to talk and thanked them for taking on the renovations.
"There's been not one negative comment to us," Carlson said.
To accomplish the rehab work, the owners required all of the tenants to leave. Residents in 15 occupied units were served termination notices April 19 that said everyone had to be out of their apartments by May 31. All of them relocated pretty rapidly on the last day to move out, and none of them have reached out to re-apply for the apartments or left the new management forwarding addresses, Carlson said.
Royer had said a lot of the evicted tenants' leases expired and automatically became month-to-month leases by law.
Former residents previously said they were not happy about being forced to relocate or finding enough money in 40 days to cover first month's rent, last month's rent and security deposit at a new apartment, but they acknowledged problems under the previous landlord, such as bedbug and cockroach infestations and no working heat in the units. They also said the old landlord of the complex never told them that new management was taking over the buildings.
Royer had said he and Carlson are aware of the previous owners not maintaining the apartments as they should have. He said other violations from the previous owner included no hot water and no smoke detectors in any of the units.
Carlson said he and Royer tried to be as compassionate as they could for the affected former tenants. He said he thinks the initial shock and anger from those evicted were more for directed at the previous property owner, and that it's hard to imagine how to respond to that kind of notice as a tenant.
"They didn't deserve to live in the conditions that they did," Carlson said.
Carlson said the two-bedroom apartments are still 650 square feet. He said electrical circuits have been fixed and all the units now have functioning baseboard heating and hot water as well.
Carlson and Royer said the former tenants paid different monthly amounts, ranging from $675 to $820.
Linda McNeilly, 69, lives a couple of blocks away from the project and has been in her Sycamore home for a few years. She said she thinks the renovations at the nearby buildings are a great improvement and give good street appeal within the city.
"You're seeing it as you're coming in the front of the town," McNeilly said.
John Athan, 21, is a tenant at another East State Street property in Sycamore, which is near the complex. He said he didn't know anyone who lived in the two buildings before but has noticed the work that has been going on.
"It's helping the community," Athan said.
Carlson and Royer said they foresee monthly rent being less than $800 for the renovated units, with tenants only paying electric and water utilities. They said they will start accepting applications for the new units in mid-July and the apartments should be move-in ready by the beginning of August.
Carlson said the complex's new name, Carriage House, was what it was called in the 1970s. He said he and Royer thought they should keep that city history in the project.
Carlson said he's a lifelong Sycamore resident and that Royer also is from the area. Carlson said it's important to him to invest in the community.
"We're not absentee landlords," Carlson said.
"We're here," Royer said.