LOGAN SQUARE — Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) failed to pay the rent on his Logan Square office, and then abruptly moved his ward operations to a new location, according to Mark Fishman, Ramirez-Rosa’s landlord and one of the most well-known property investors in the gentrifying neighborhood.
Fishman suggested the dispute could prompt a legal fight — with taxpayers potentially footing the bill.
However, the alderman said Fishman is to blame and accused the landlord of using the incident to try to unseat him in the Feb. 26 election.
Ramirez-Rosa’s departure from his ward office at 2708-10 N. Sawyer Ave. — and the three-year long dispute over who is responsible for more than $42,000 in back rent — has opened a new front in the ongoing battle between the 35th Ward alderman facing re-election and one of the neighborhood’s largest property managers.
The dispute, first reported in Block Club Chicago, pits the two longtime foes against each other again. Dating back to 2015, Rosa has painted Fishman as the mascot for gentrification in Logan Square, a label Fishman said is undeserved. Fishman said the story is simple – the alderman failed to pay what he owed.
But Ramirez-Rosa told The Daily Line he had an agreement with the previous landlord of the building to split the rent 60/40 with Democratic State Rep. Will Guzzardi. The monthly rent was set to rise from $1,900 to $2,076 during the four-year lease, with to-be-determined charges for use of the common areas, according to documents obtained by The Daily Line.
Fishman should have honored that agreement, Ramirez-Rosa said, and is only pressing the issue now because he is up for re-election, facing challenger Amanda Yu Dieterich in his bid for a second term.
Ultimately, Ramirez-Rosa said any back rent owed to Fishman is the responsibility of the state.
Fishman said he is simply enforcing the terms of the lease in effect when his company was brought on to manage the building, and that Ramirez-Rosa and Guzzardi could not have two leases for the same space. Ramirez-Rosa attempted to make him look like a villain after Rosa failed to pay what he owed, Fishman said.
“There was no eviction filed,” Fishman told The Daily Line. “I sent him a demand letter for the rent he owed and he dined and ditched. Then he got out in front by saying Fishman evicted me and Fishman’s a bully.”
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “My only regret is that I probably should have moved out earlier. I should have recognized that he was seeking to use this as a political weapon, that he was seeking to use it as a point of leverage to get me to become another [former 35th Ward Ald.] Rey Colon that did whatever he wanted, or to then try to use it to embarrass and shame me like he is now. I’m not sure if it was himself or my opponent that shared with you the documents and brought you this quote-unquote story that he manufactured. It’s clear to everyone, including in the community, that this is totally a political ploy.”
A limited liability corporation, HB1, associated with M. Fishman Co. made a $5,000 donation to Yu Dieterich on Dec. 31. The firm’s agent is Eric Hoberman, according to state records. Hoberman is named as the executive vice president of M. Fishman Co. in emails with Ramirez-Rosa’s staff. Fishman said he has no ownership in HB1.
Yu Dieterich’s campaign raised $34,687 from 200 donors in the last three months, according to reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Yu Dieterich said she saw nothing wrong with taking contributions from property developers and managers.
“I am running for alderman to make Chicago a more affordable city, a more accessible city, and a more accountable city,” Yu Dieterich said. “That means working with stakeholders and community organizations when I’m elected to bring more affordable housing units to the ward — because you can’t have more affordable housing without building more housing.”
Ramirez-Rosa signed a four-year lease that began on June 1, 2015 for office space at 2708-10 N. Sawyer Ave. with FY Property Management.
The city provides aldermen with an annual expense account of around $100,000. Aldermen make their own arrangements for leases and other expenses, a law department spokesperson said.
Asked whether aldermen are responsible for negotiating and handling legal issues for their ward office rents, spokesperson Bill McCaffrey said, “The city generally does not become involved.”
According to emails provided to The Daily Line, Rosa’s then-Chief of Staff, Monica Trevino wrote in a July 2015 email that the agreement was changed to allow state Rep. Will Guzzardi to assume 40 percent of the cost of the rent.
A lawyer for FY Property Management agreed to honor the change in an email to Trevino, provided the lease would contain a clause that should Guzzardi’s term end for any reason, the alderman’s office would assume the lease for the entire space.
“Please confirm your agreement to this and we’ll prepare the lease amendments and lease for Rep. Guzzardi,” the email said.
An amended lease was not signed. Guzzardi told The Daily Line the state did not have a lease with either landlord and that the state never cut a check for the space. The conflict is between Rosa and Fishman, Guzzardi said.
Ramirez-Rosa said a new lease was in the works until December 2015, when the aldeman got a letter that his landlord, FY Developments LLC, transferred ownership of the property to 2715 NMA LLC, and Fishman would be managing the building.
Ramirez-Rosa and Fishman met in November 2015, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“He told me you know, I can help you out, I want to help you out, we can figure something out,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “I was like, look Mark, that’s inappropriate and you shouldn’t be saying things like that, particularly in a government office.”
Fishman denied that conversation ever happened.
“The only time I met Carlos Rosa was after he won the election,” Fishman said.
Ramirez-Rosa defeated Colon, an ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, by 34 points in February of 2015.
“It was a very public meeting out in the middle of his office, not even in his private office,” shortly after Ramirez-Rosa won, Fishman said, and the two did not discuss the lease. “My statement to him was congratulations alderman. It was business, you used me, you won the election, now let’s get down to a public-private partnership for the 35th Ward, because that’s what I’m interested in. Then we talked about his background a bit, where he came from, all that. That was the only discussion I’ve ever had with the man, period.”
The dispute over the lease flared in the spring and summer of 2016, prompting a flurry of emails.
“Rep. Guzzardi is not listed anywhere on the agreement, despite the agreement you have with him to share the office space,” according to a May 2016 email from M. Fishman Co.’s James Bird to Trevino. “Ultimately this means the alderman will need to make full payment to the building and collect the previously agreed upon amount directly from Rep. Guzzardi.”
“The attorney for the state, Mr. [Justin] Cox, asked us to execute a [second] lease agreement with the state and the building so that payment could be made directly by the state for their portion. As Alderman Rosa already has a valid lease for the entire space, we are not able to enter into a second legally binding agreement with the state for the same property,” Bird wrote.
Bird said Fishman Co. could not have two separate leases “for the same location with different rental amounts and expiration dates as the state would require. All of this was explained to Mr. Cox and the conclusion of the conversation was that Rep. Guzzardi and Alderman Rosa would work something out regarding the funds as we would not be able to accomodate the state’s request.”
Ramirez-Rosa described Bird’s explanation as “totally ridiculous” because “we have that same arrangement with other landlords,” including for the 35th Ward’s other office with state Sen. Omar Aquino.
“We have two leases — the state has a lease with the landlord, and I have a lease with the landlord, and we split the rent,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
In December 2017, Rosa’s new Chief Of Staff Jessica Vasquez reached out to Fishman Co. to “get a sense as to processes for payment… I believe we are paid up until December. Do you typically send an invoice?”
Bird told her no, and added that Rosa was “significantly” behind on rent.
“At this point there is a balance of $31,118.05 due as a result of underpayments that occurred since we began managing the property,” according to the email.
The issue came to a head a year later, when Fishman himself sent the alderman a letter stating Rosa owed $42,265.86 in back rent and had 15 days to pay up.
“Furthermore, you are in default of the lease by permitting Representative Guzzardi to maintain his service office in your Ward Office without the landlord’s written consent,” Fishman wrote to Ramirez-Rosa. “Failure to make payment of all past due back rent before the expiration of the 15-day cure period will result in further legal action.”
Ramirez-Rosa wrote back arguing the 60/40 split “was carried over and grandfathered into our contract in good faith” and that he had “met our payment obligations under the amended lease agreement — all that is required for payment of rent owed by the State of Illinois is for M. Fishman Co. to complete the appropriate paperwork with the State of Illinois, which has been requested numerous times” by Guzzardi’s staff.
Rosa and Guzzardi left the office last month.
Asked if he worried Fishman might sue the state, Guzzardi noted that he is not a lawyer.
“I don’t feel equipped to answer that question,” Guzzardi said.
Ramirez-Rosa was confident that he was on solid legal ground.
“I’ve spoken with my lawyer and it’s pretty clear, the previous landlord agreed to amend the lease to bring in Guzzardi as a co-occupant,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “Mark Fishman was not acting in good faith and he refused to sign the paperwork. We know why he wasn’t acting in good faith, right? Because this was politically motivated.”
Fishman said he plans to explore all his legal options, and defended his record in the 35th Ward. Fishman has been investing in property in Logan Square since late 1990 and argues its proximity to transportation made it ripe for gentrification. “If it wasn’t me it would have been somebody else, I just happened to be there earlier.”
“It’s hard to say in the last five years I’m the evil gentrifier when I’ve been there 29 years,” Fishman said, crediting his hard work for filling once-vacant storefronts and transforming rundown apartments into livable homes.