CHICAGO (CN) - Residents of three subsidized senior apartment buildings in Chicago claim in a class action that despite being promised "a home for life," they are being illegally kicked out by the buildings' owner.
In a complaint filed in the Cook County Chancery Court, six of the 110 seniors living in the Neighborhood Homes apartments, say letters from building owner Presbyterian Homes Inc. were slipped under their doors in August announcing the apartments were being sold and all current residents were being evicted.
Until receiving the disturbing notices, "no resident knew of the possibility that the buildings might be sold and leases broken," the complaint says.
As residents read on, grappling with the shock of the news, the letter concluded by telling them that had until Nov. 1, 2016 to clear out, the plaintiffs claim.
While it's not uncommon for buildings to change hands, the new buyer must honor tenants' leases until they expire, according to Chicago's Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance, and the residents of the Neighborhood Homes say they have leases that never end.
The complaint says the Neighborhood Homes were established by Presbyterian "to provide affordable housing for seniors to help them stay in their neighborhoods," and the residents there "were seeking a permanent home in which to live out their remaining years."
Leases for the buildings include the start date, subsidy amount, rent amount and a "lifetime guarantee stated as an ending date listed as N/A." Residents' subsidy agreements further state that their leases can only be terminated if they fail to pay rent, fail to follow the building rules or can no longer live independently.
Everyone who lives in the buildings "were all told clearly they could stay in these units for the rest of their lives," says the plaintiffs' lawyer Matthew Piers of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym Ltd.
Piers says that many of those living in the Neighborhood Homes have been in their area on Chicago's north side for a long time and want to stay near their friends, family and doctors as they get older, but gentrification has made it less and less affordable for those on fixed incomes.
He adds that the residents love the buildings and he's never seen tenants "have such uniformly positive things to say about their living experience."
The complaint says that Presbyterian Homes told residents and public officials at an information session that the buildings would be sold to for-profit developers and would not consider "sale to affordable housing operators."
According to Piers, Presbyterian has told others that its decision was "motivated by financial concerns," and thinks it wishes to cash out on its investment in the buildings. "Not-for-profit doesn't mean you're not in it for the money," he says.
Piers points out that the Geneva Foundation, the fundraising arm for Presbyterian Homes, reported its best years in 2014 and 2015, so there "doesn't appear to be financial need."
However, he adds that the plaintiffs' main concern is not the sale of the building, but that their leases are honored. A for-profit company "probably won't be interested in lifetime subsidized leases," he says.
According to the complaint "residents report waiting lists for subsidized apartments can be three to five years long," and Piers says some may end up homeless, broke or in substandard housing. Some have moved out already.
Last Thursday, Presbyterian agreed to consider selling the buildings to a non-profit organization, which Piers says is "certainly a step in the right direction."
Linda Armitage, Christine Broxon, Patricia Healy, Margaret Lilek, Barbara Madro and Carolyn Summers are suing Presbyterian Homes on behalf of the class of residents for violating the RLTO and the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, and are asking for an order that their lifetime leases must be honored.
If they aren't honored, says the complaint, these seniors will "face a future without a home they can afford."
Presbyterian Homes did not respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.