Center tenants receiving help

By Michelle Landrum

NIU students living in the DeKalb Center apartment complex are receiving legal advice from the Students’ Legal Assistance office.

Due to numerous tenant complaints and housing code violations, the city of DeKalb filed a petition Friday to seek court intervention for the appointment of a property manager to the Center. More than 40 structure code violations were cited during an Aug. 8 inspeciton of the building.

The property manger is responsible for overseeing the six-story building and collecting rent from about 150 residents, which will be used to make immediate repairs.

If landlords recklessly allow the conditions of their property to deteriorate and endanger health or safety, they can be cited fo a Class A misdemeanor under the Illinois criminal code, subject to a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.

It is “a much more radical step to take the building away from somebody, than it is to, in my view, cite him for a misdemeanor,” said Don Henderson, director of NIU Students’ Legal Assistance office.

Henderson and Assistance office attorney Lynn Richards will hold a 4 p.m. meeting today in the Holmes Student Center’s Illinois Room for NIU students who live in the Center. The meeting will inform tenants of their legal rights and allow them to ask question, Henderson said.

The assistance is free to all fee-paying NIU students. Other tenants seeking free legal assistance should contact Prairie State Legal Services, Batavia, Ill.

Representatives from the assistance office spoke at an Oct. 4 tenants’ meeting at the Center and informed residents of their rights. Of the 31 tenant qustionnaires distributed by the office, 22 were returned by NIU students.

Henderson said he is unsure what sort of action the office might take on behalf of the students. Part-owner of the Center, Joe Navilio, Lisle, Ill., has until Friday’s court hearing to contest the petition. The case will be heard at 10 a.m. at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.

Henderson said about 5 years ago his office represented a group of students who lived in the same building and were denied reimbursement of pre-paid rent when the rooming house was closed dowun by its mangement. The buildiding was called the New Life Center and had different owners.

The building was purchased by Navilio, who reimbursed “a significant portion” of the residents’ losses with his own money “as a show of good faith to his tenants,” Henderson said.

If Navilio does not contest the petition, a legal receivership will be assigned by the court and a temporarry property manager will be appointed. The temporary manger is not assigned for a specific period of time, but has control untill the building is habitable, Henderson said.

There is a possibiltity that Center residents may be relocated at local shelters “if the receivership is not appointed or proves to be ineffective,” Henderson said.

Residents might be able to break their lease on the grounds of inhabitable conditions, Henderson said, but they are advised to seek legal cousel before taking action.

Another option for residents is seeking compensation for pre-paid rent. “Some credit or abatement of rent is appropriate given the hardship those people had to deal with,” Henderson said.

DeKalb Center residents pay $475 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, including heat and water, and $375 for a one-bedroom apartment, said DeKalb Center manager Beth Elkins.