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Hunter Properties residents consider class-action suit after DeKalb ordinance violations

August 4, 2018

DeKALB – Lucinda Castano has lived at her apartment at 930 Greenbrier Road since last year. She said she initially was attracted to the Hunter Properties apartment because pets were allowed, so she decided to take a look at one of its three-bedroom units.

Castano said the entire building she walked through was gutted. She said there were no floors, and graffiti was all over the walls, but she was told management was renovating its properties and Castano always saw maintenance crews who looked like they were actively trying to remodel the building. That’s also what it looked like when she visited the property about five more times, she said.

To date, however, Castano still doesn’t have closet doors, she still doesn’t have smoke detectors, she still has electrical problems as kitchen appliances and the heaters cause the power to go out in parts of her apartment, she said.

“We were promised something completely different than what we got,” Castano said.

Castano has since created a Facebook page to chronicle her issues with Hunter Properties, along with the issues of others. She said she and other tenants are considering filing a class-action lawsuit against the property management company relating to the alleged lack of response from the landlord to several reported building issues.

There have been at least 450 ordinance violations against Hunter Properties through the city of DeKalb that have gone to court in the past two years, according to court records. Those violations include exposed wiring and other fire hazards, water-heater issues, electrical issues and lack of bathroom ventilation.

Many active cases will continue during a 9 a.m. Wednesday hearing at the DeKalb County Courthouse, 133 W. State St. in Sycamore.

City attorney Dean Frieders said during a July 23 City Council meeting that the city filing the ordinance violations was an attempt to have meaningful talks with management about the city’s concerns about the significant amount of area crime and maintenance issues. He said the city hoped the sheer number of violations would signal to Hunter Properties the gravity of the situation.

“We’ve been disappointed to see that’s not the case,” Frieders said.

Clay Campbell, an attorney for Hunter Properties, said management is being treated unfairly by the city of DeKalb. He said the idea of the company being responsible for crime in the area when it’s going out of its way to invest $50 million in DeKalb is “laughable.”

“I don’t know how a business can be held responsible for an individual’s act that decided to violate the law,” Campbell said.

Frieders said during the meeting that the DeKalb County circuit clerk has filed judgments on more than 100 complaints so far, which has resulted in more than $100,000 in fines. He said the property management company failed and refused to pay those fines, and the deadline to appeal those concerns has passed. He said the city is proceeding with recording liens against those properties and will be moving to foreclose on those liens.

Castano said she had to send her daughter, who was pregnant at the time, to Florida because of the lack of adequate heating in the apartment; after someone tried to break into the apartment in November, but was chased out by Castano’s three pit bulls; and after someone successfully broke into the apartment, resulting in $5,000 in losses.

Castano said she put in multiple maintenance calls to Hunter Properties, but management refused to do anything about the heaters and electric issues, as well as building locks that kept breaking.

“There’s so many economical things that they could do to establish some sort of standard here, some sort of security, and they just don’t do it,” Castano said.

Castano initially sued Hunter Properties for $10,000 for breach of lease and damages. After dismissing those charges in an attempt to settle, Castano said, she filed another lawsuit against Hunter Properties for $10,000 for emotional distress and assault after a physical confrontation with staff.

Castano said when she went in to tell staff to stop harassing her, a staff member allegedly tried to take her phone. When she tried to reach to get it back, the staff members allegedly punched and scratched her. She was arrested and charged with battery and trespassing as a result of the altercation.

Campbell said he has seen Castano’s Facebook postings, ramblings and threats and has met with her twice in an effort to find a resolution. He said those conversations went nowhere, and he asked the judge to have her removed from her apartment by Saturday.

“We’ve had great difficulty with Miss Castano,” Campbell said.

Castano also filed a lawsuit against the city of DeKalb for $10,000 for not adequately helping her when she brought her concerns about Hunter Properties to the city.

Frieders said the city does everything in its power to verify any accusations about rental property conditions whenever the city receives a tenant complaint, and it takes the safety and security of residents seriously.

“We are still actively listening to our residents when they call and have a concern about one of the properties,” Frieders said.

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