DeKalb – Ashley Condon said she had to shut down her in-home cosmetics business because Hunter Properties Management does not maintain her building at 808 Ridge Drive to a high enough standard. She said there was blood on the carpet when she and her husband, Kyle, moved in.
Condon was one of the many people, all tenants of buildings owned by Evanston-based Hunter Properties, that spoke Wednesday at a packed public meeting to form a Hunter Properties Tenants Association.
Hunter Properties buildings have been the subject of more than 400 city code violations, City Manager Bill Nicklas has said. Hunter Properties also has been assessed $105,376 in fines for violations which already have been prosecuted. Nicklas said Hunter has appealed the fines.
“When we [moved in], there was blood and chewing gum in the carpet, nothing had been cleaned,” Ashley Condon said. “It looked like children wrote all over the wall. There were cockroaches eating chicken bones, a used plunger in the main bathroom. Both showers didn’t work.”
Tracy Lindgren, a property manager for Hunter-DeKalb Properties, a subsidiary of Hunter Properties Management, who oversees seven apartment complexes in DeKalb, attended the meeting with a few other Hunter Properties staff members, who said they were only there to observe.
“This was a battle that we didn’t have a chance in from the beginning,” Ashley Condon said. “In the cosmetics business, you have to meet a certain set of standards with the Food and Drug Administration. [My business] was my meal ticket. That’s how I paid rent.”
Katt McDonough, an NIU student from Chicago, said she and her roommate, who live at 904 W. Hillcrest, have a broken dishwasher that she doesn’t think will be fixed.
“It feels like it takes forever to get maintenance to do one thing,” McDonough said.
She said, like Ashley Condon, they were promised a steam-cleaned carpet upon move-in, and it was noticeably dirty when they moved in. Hunter Properties takes money out of tenants’ security deposits to clean carpets in between tenants, she said.
Another tenant said her apartment is infested with bedbugs and roaches. Another expressed frustration about other tenants in her building not doing their part to clean up common areas and hallways, and that she was embarrassed to have company over.
Nicklas said the city supports tenant associations and residents wanting to take control of their lives.
He pointed residents in the direction of city services such as elected officials who were in attendance, city code enforcement teams, the Crime Free Housing program and law enforcement officials.
“[The city] not only reacts to problems, but we’re there hopefully to proactively prevent some of these things,” Nicklas said, adding that Hunter Properties is due back in court next week, since the fines on the code enforcement violations have not yet been paid.
Joe Lovelace, an attorney and director of the student legal services office at NIU, was on hand to answer tenant questions and explain their rights.
“At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is accountability,” Lovelace said. “You have the right to review the lease before signing it. One of the things I recommend is to make sure you take video and pictures, and make sure you get a copy of that [move-in] inspection report.”
Lovelace said if tenants have a problem, they should send their complaints, in writing preferably, to property managers and then follow up a few days later with an email. If nothing is resolved after that, he recommended seeking legal action.
Lovelace also recommended Prairie Street Legal Services, which offers free legal services to people with low incomes.
“You’re paying someone for the use of the space,” Lovelace said. “You have a right to live in a place that really is liveable.”
Halle Boddy, 22, a senior at NIU majoring in nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations studies who used to live at 832 Edgebrook Drive in the Alpha Phi sorority section of the apartment complex, organized the meeting. She said the next one will be tenants-only to give residents a safe space to voice concerns.