HYDE PARK — Tenants with Mac Properties who have lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic must sign a confidentiality agreement before they can negotiate a payment plan.
Discussions and documents about payment plans and all other lease changes “shall not be disclosed to any third party for any reason whatsoever,” according to an agreement distributed to tenants looking to modify their lease.
An exception is made for “a court of competent jurisdiction,” which may receive such information “for purposes of enforcement.”
Tenants must also agree not to “disparage” Mac Properties in any way.
Mac Properties does not want residents to expect any “particular deal” based off what other Mac tenants have received, director of community development Peter Cassel said.
“Each [agreement] is structured to the individual,” Cassel said. “Having an expectation of what other people have been able to structure … is not helpful to solving each individual’s issues.”
Tenants must sign a non-disclosure agreement before negotiating “so people know what our expectations of them are throughout this process,” Cassel said.
“We’ve put it all on the table up front; there’s nothing hidden,” he said.
Cassel would not share the number of tenants who have signed the confidentiality agreement.
Besides negotiating a payment plan, tenants may transfer to a cheaper apartment without penalty or pursue “a path to lease termination,” Mac officials said in a March 30 letter.
Last week, Cassel noted that Cook County has paused eviction enforcement, but did not definitively say whether residents unable to pay any rent would be allowed to remain in their home.
“Residents who have … stayed employed and have some financial stability, we hope and expect they will continue to pay rent as they agreed,” he said.
It’s “laughable” that Mac Properties is claiming transparency while issuing an NDA to tenants seeking to negotiate, Mac Tenants United organizer Zak Witus said.
The agreement is “a cynical, anti-union tactic,” Witus said. “Our expectation is that they will deal with us as a union, they will treat all of us fairly and they won’t try to divide us.”
Fifty tenants with the organization have withheld rent payments for the month of April, according to Witus.
The NDA could have “a chilling effect” on tenants’ rights under the city’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, said Mark Swartz, executive director of the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.
There’s no value to the tenant in keeping negotiations confidential, he said.
In reading the agreement, “a reasonable person would say, ‘I can’t talk to an attorney about this; I can’t talk to other tenants or think about organizing with other tenants,'” Swartz said.
Beyond that, the clause about not disparaging Mac Properties is “so broad,” it could stop tenants from complaining about future concerns “unrelated to this particular negotiation” like garbage removal or pests, he said.
City code grants tenants the right to “complain or testify in good faith about their tenancy” without retaliation.
This is not the first time a landlord has required tenants to sign NDAs before negotiating, Swartz said, but it is not common practice in his experience.
Mac’s NDA is “certainly a poor business practice when in this moment, we need to be encouraging people to meet, talk frankly and work things out so that we don’t have an epidemic of homelessness and vacant properties,” Swartz said. “This just isn’t the way to do it.”
View the form given to tenants here:
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