ALBANY PARK — An Albany Park landlord who allegedly gave longtime tenants 30 days to leave their homes during a pandemic is facing criticism from tenants rights groups and a Chicago alderman.
During a Friday news conference, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) blasted property owner Brian McFadden, who bought a 7-unit apartment building at 3746 W. Leland Ave. in May and promptly sent tenants letters instructing them to leave within 30 days, Rosa said.
Since the letter was sent, the city adopted a Fair Notice ordinance, which requires landlords to give longtime tenants 120 days notice before terminating their lease, but McFadden bought the building before it was passed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has an eviction moratorium in place, citing the public health risk of displacing people as coronavirus continues to claim lives across the country.
“No one should have to lose a roof over their head, particularly during a pandemic,” Rosa said, standing in front of the building Friday.
McFadden’s decision to kick families out puts an undue burden on the nearly 20 residents, mostly immigrant families with children, Rosa said.
“Where are they going to go? We know that this is an economic recession we’re currently in. We know that this pandemic is costing lives, particularly in this Albany Park community,” Rosa said. “We need responsible property owners that do the right thing and not send out 30 day notices during a pandemic.”
Since being notified of the situation Rosa has been calling McFadden repeatedly asking him to figure out how to work with the tenants, he said.
“He has not called me back. Pick up the phone, Brian. Sit down with these tenants. They’re prepared to sign permanent leases. They’re prepared to pay rent. Do the right thing,” Rosa said.
‘He just kept ignoring us’
Salvador Alvarez Chavez, a tenant who has lived in the building for the past 14 years, found out about the sale of his longtime home from the letter asking her to leave on May 30. He said he’s frustrated the previous owner didn’t say anything after they reliably paid rent for more than a decade.
“We want to negotiate with him. We are willing to pay rent even though many of us have seen a decrease in our income due to the pandemic. We want to stay in this building. Please negotiate with us,” Chavez said, in Spanish.
“But he just kept ignoring us initially,” said Victor Muñoz, one of the tenants facing eviction. “We started a rent strike in June because we didn’t know how else to get his attention. When we got the eviction notice in May it was heartbreaking. I also got angry.
“But, then I started worrying about my kids. How am I going to keep a roof over their heads during this pandemic?”
Muñoz has lived in the building for 13 years with his wife Neli and two children, ages 9 and 16.
Muñoz’s daughter has asthma and he fears uprooting his family at an already stressful and dangerous time.
The tenants have been saving their money so they can pay back the rent they owe, he said. But before they do that, they want McFadden to agree to allow the current tenants to stay in their units for at least one year.
They also said they want him to address basic maintenance issues that have been ignored since he bought the building.
“We have automatic porch lights that needed new bulbs. We replaced them after the landlord didn’t and we noticed the timer is off. They don’t turn on until like 1 or 2 a.m., way after it’s already dark, which is a safety issue,” Muñoz said.
Another tenant had to ask a neighbor to fix a leaky bathroom sink after getting no response from McFadden.
“Thankfully, Salvador is a handy guy and fixed it. But these are things that should be taken care of by the landlord,” Muñoz said.
‘It is not our intent to displace you unexpectedly’
After getting organized, the tenants began sending letters to McFadden asking him to negotiate a long term lease, but in an email obtained by Block Club, he said he couldn’t negotiate with them while they continued to withhold rent.
“So we would like to start by acknowledging that we will consider lease extensions, as we acknowledge the current world situation is uncertain,” McFadden said in a July 29 email. “We are willing to engage in good faith negotiations, and it is not our intent to displace you unexpectedly. So with that I suggest we hit the reset button and discuss an agreeable resolution.”
Tenants said they didn’t want to pay him a large sum of money until maintenance issues were addressed and they had a lease in hand, which McFadden said was “unfair.”
“At this point the number one minimum we need is that rent needs to be paid,” McFadden said in an August 11 email to tenants. “As it stands now, you have saddled me with all the obligations of the contract, and none of the benefits. That is entirely unfair, and you have to be aware of that. Saddling me with the entire rent obligation is not a reasonable solution. I need to take action to get myself out of this situation.”
McFadden said he felt uncomfortable offering a lease to people who were withholding rent, and also offered tenants a refund of their June rent if they moved out by July 1 in the May 30 termination later.
“You wouldn’t sign a contract with the likelihood that the other party will pick and choose when they follow it,” McFadden said in the email.
McFadden’s spokesperson Clint Sabin accused tenants of misrepresenting the events of the past three months.
“When [McFadden] purchased the building from the previous owner, who allowed it to fall into disrepair, the previous owner did not have written leases with any tenants; only verbal month-to-month leases, which [McFadden] was unable to renew,” McFadden said in a statement.
McFadden disputed that any “eviction filings or actions have been taken” and said he offered the tenants help relocating by bringing in a bilingual “relocation professional” with experience in helping “low-income families.”
“The building needs substantial repairs that can only be done safely while the building is unoccupied,” McFadden said Friday. “The building will still be rental units once the repairs are complete.”
Rosa accused McFadden of using semantics to try and claim he didn’t try to kick the tenants out of the building — he may not have filed eviction papers, but forcing tenants out in 30 days is essentially evicting them.
“Whatever you want to call it, the owner gave a 30 day notice in a letter telling them they have to leave,” Rosa said. “No matter how they try to frame it, that’s a letter telling a person they’re going to lose their home.”
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