Tenant class action: Presbyterian Homes broke law, leases, by threatening to evict elderly residents who held leases "for life"

By Scott Holland | Oct 22, 2015

Six women have brought a class action against Presbyterian Homes, alleging the company violated the terms of their leases, as well as Chicago and Illinois law, when the property management company announced its buildings had been sold to developers and threatened with eviction tenants who, until the announcement, believed the terms of their leases entitled them to a subsidized apartment “for life.”

The plaintiffs — Linda Armitage, Christine Broxon, Patricia Healy, Margaret Lilek, Barbara Madro and Carolyn Summers — say senior living facility operator Presbyterian Homes, of Evanston, violated terms of the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act by breaching a contract they had for lifetime leases.

The complaint, filed earlier this month in Cook County Circuit Court’s Chancery Division, arose after Presbyterian Homes announced Aug. 14 it would be selling its buildings and evicting residents. At issue are three subsidized-rent buildings — called Neighborhood Homes buildings — Mulvey Place (416 W. Barry Ave.), Crowder Place (3801 N. Pine Grove Ave.) and Devon Place (195 W. Devon Ave.)

The plaintiffs say about 100 women live in the buildings, all believing they had lifetime leases that require them to be able to live independently and pay the rent, which is subsidized. Of the six, who are in their mid-60s to early 80s, Madro has the shortest tenure, having been in her Mulvey Place apartment for just six months, while Lilek holds the longest lease, having lived at Crowder Place for 13 years.

According to the complaint, “the leases have a specific start date, fixed rent subsidy, fixed rent amount and lifetime guarantee stated as an ending date listed as ‘N/A’ … All residents have essentially the same lease, with the only differences being the start date and the amount of rent and subsidy.” Many tenants, they say, were told they “had a home for life” and “would never have to move.” They also were told their rent obligations could be reduced if they experienced a change in income, as rent was fixed at 28 percent of a tenant’s annual income.

Tenants learned of the plans to sell the properties via an Aug. 14 letter, slid under each apartment’s door. The letter said leases were being unilaterally terminated and informed the women they would need to move. The apartments are to be closed by Nov. 1, 2016. The complaint states the letter was the first time tenants and apartment employees learned of the possibility of a sale and eviction.

The following Monday, Presbyterian Homes executives, including CEO Todd Swortzel, conducted meetings at the homes, reporting the buildings would be sold to for-profit developers. The executives “refused to engage residents or local public officials about sale to affordable housing operators,” they said.

While the implication at that session was a sale was imminent, Presbyterian Homes was actively soliciting new residents as late as March 2015, the complaint stated. Some women have moved, accepting the offer of $1,500 in moving assistance. Others are on waiting lists for subsidized apartments, some which cite three to five years before an opening. The complaint asserted, however, the people who moved only did so under threat of eviction by Nov. 1, 2016, which is the last date subsidized rent is guaranteed.

In addition to certification as a class action and a jury trial, the plaintiffs seek damages, legal fees, injunctions barring Presbyterian Homes from evicting anyone and from selling the three buildings unless the lifetime leases are transferred, as well as stopping the company from preventing women who left any of the three Presbyterian Homes’ properties from returning to their unit under their prior lease.

The women are represented by Matthew J. Piers and Charles D. Wysong, of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Chicago.

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