DeKALB – Embattled landlord Hunter Ridgebrook Properties LLC has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of DeKalb seeking $10 million for what it claims are violations of its constitutional rights and a strategically planned “assault” against Hunter and its affiliates.
The lawsuit calls out “unequal, unfair and discriminatory treatment” by city staff to Hunter Properties.
Clay Campbell, an attorney for Hunter Properties, did not return requests for comment Friday. When reached, City Manager Bill Nicklas said he would defer comment to City Attorney Matt Rose.
“I believe the lawsuit is without merit,” Rose said Friday. “The city will deny all allegations. I think it will be dismissed. However, it is sad that this is the state of what the largest landowner in DeKalb thinks they have to go to. It’s not something that is indicative of what a responsible landowner does.”
The lawsuit was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Western Division.
The lawsuit makes 39 claims, alleging the city has targeted Hunter Properties and that the landlord is the subject of concentrated attacks by city staff.
Among those claims, the lawsuit says the city has pushed to mandate cameras and private security paid for by Hunter at its buildings, despite them not being required by municipal code and has not been enforced on other landlords operating in the city. The suit also said police, fire and code enforcement officials routinely have entered Hunter-owned buildings by force, despite Hunter staff’s alleged cooperation.
City wants property turned over
“This ongoing persecution by the city of DeKalb involves a level of scrutiny and harassment which has markedly interfered with Hunter’s ability to conduct business in that the city is filing ordinance violations against Hunter for the most minute infractions,” the lawsuit states.
DeKalb County court records show city inspectors have cited Hunter Properties about 500 times for code violations since 2017, although city officials said the company has not paid any fines, and the underlying problems may not have been corrected.
According to city staff at Monday’s City Council meeting, by mid-March more than 530 violation cases had been filed in county court against Hunter, and $105,300 in judgments were reached on 116 of those cases. After further appeals by Hunter, the city was awarded judgments of $93,300, according to city documents.
No settlement has been signed, so no fines have been paid, the documents show.
Rose on Monday said the city plans to try to obtain the properties as an asset to pay back the fines.
“The first step that we’re taking for that are citations to discover assets. Post-judgment proceedings will require the owners of Hunter Properties to present to the court what assets they have, if any, beyond the properties,” Rose said Monday. “And that will be backed by the contempt power of the court.”
The suit also alleges that Hunter Property-owned buildings and staff were intentionally left out of the 2017 Annie Glidden North Revitalization Plan, despite being a major property holder in the targeted area.
The lawsuit says such actions are “part of the city’s strategy to lien the respective property of Hunter, causing the diminution of its value and diminishment of its profitability.”
Evanston-based Hunter Properties LLC is DeKalb’s largest landlord. Through subsidiaries, it owns about 1,000 rental units in DeKalb, city officials have said, which is more than any other company. Those include two buildings where tenants were forced from their homes after July fires police believe were set intentionally that displaced about 200 people.