Covid-19 has brought nearly all residential eviction filings to a screeching halt in Chicago. In mid-March the Cook County Sheriff’s Office even stopped serving eviction orders after officers encountered a tenant who showed symptoms of the virus.
But one of the few landlords still proceeding with evictions has been Mac Properties, the property management arm of Antheus Capital, which owns 5,000 units across the city.
Mac has angered tenants in recent weeks by demanding they sign nondisclosure agreements before discussing rent-payment plans. Despite threats of a rent strike by tenants who say the pandemic has left them financially strapped, Mac — as with other landlords — has not granted rent forgiveness. Instead, it has outlined a policy that includes allowing residents to pursue “a path to lease termination” or to move into a cheaper unit.
The company filed two eviction claims in recent weeks in addition to the nine it sent in March, court records show. The April evictions were for tenant “bad behavior,” and the March notices were for nonpayment.
Of the April notices, Mac spokesman Peter Cassel said: “Each of the tenants has agreed to move out, but we’re filing the eviction nonetheless to ensure they do.” New Jersey-based Antheus did not respond to a call for comment.
On April 23, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order prohibiting any new residential eviction action unless a tenant poses a “direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants, an immediate and severe risk to property” or violates a building code or health ordinance. Cassel said the two eviction filings last month fell into those categories.
Mac’s tough position toward tenants comes as Chicago landlords are collecting May rent payments and face their own potential crises with lenders. Most Chicago landlords were able to collect full rents for April, including Mac, whose collections were down less than 5 percent, Cassel said. That was despite threats of a rent strike.
Chicago landlords have said they are expecting a larger share of missed or partial payments this month.
But the eviction notices also come at a time when unemployment is rising and nonessential businesses remain closed through May under Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
Mark Swartz, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing — a legal aid agency — said he knew of only eight evictions filed in Chicago last week. By comparison, there were more than 17,000 evictions filed for the month of April 2019, according to the Chicago Reader. Last month’s data was not available.
Other than Mac, John Bartlett of the advocacy group Metropolitan Tenants Association said he was “not aware of any other landlords” having served eviction notices.
Peter Moller, a tenant at a Mac building and an economics major at the University of Chicago, is one of the tenants being evicted for nonpayment. As a result of the coronavirus, Moller said he “fell on hard times,” and believes Mac has been unsympathetic.
But Cassel disagreed, saying Moller has a history of nonpayment along with other issues. “He’s like Schrödinger’s tenant,” Cassel said, likening Moller to the cat in the famous Austrian thought experiment. “He is living there without risk of being displaced, until the court reopens. We hope Mr. Moller pays his rent.”
Because Mac manages so many apartments, tenants have been able to organize and gain some attention. Mac Tenants United — which formed in late March — is demanding their rent be canceled during the crisis, saying they will stop paying if it isn’t. The group joins a chorus of tenants across the country who are threatening strikes. In Kansas City, where Mac manages 22 Antheus apartment buildings, tenants are organizing to withhold rent, according to Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants. The group is helping lead that effort.
Perhaps hoping to avoid that kind of showdown in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday unveiled “Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge,” signed by representatives of some of Chicago’s most prominent banks, and landlord and agent groups. Included in that list are Chicagoland Apartment Association, Chicago Association of Realtors, Bank of America, BMO Harris Bank, US Bank and Fifth Third Bank. Swartz of the Lawyers Committee was the only housing advocacy-affiliated group to sign on. The 17 signatories pledged to work with homeowners and renters to prevent displacement and foreclosure. But the well-publicized effort has been criticized by tenant groups for being insufficient and lacking enforcement power.
Marisa Novara, Chicago’s housing commissioner, said at the pledge agreement announcement that “our hope and our belief is that we can make it through this crisis without a wave of evictions or foreclosures.” But the pledge could also confuse tenants who could mistake the suggested measures for expanded rights and protections, critics said.
Asked how, specifically, the pledge would be enforced, a spokesperson for the mayor sent a recording of Thursday’s announcement.
Swartz acknowledged it lacked teeth and could potentially mislead renters, as well as potentially slowing momentum for more concrete measures.
“There isn’t really a mechanism to monitor whether [lenders and landlords] do what they agree to. It doesn’t really affect lots of folks — and there are all sorts of landlords in the city, many who will be experiencing financial distress themselves who, once these [eviction moratorium] orders expire, will want to file evictions on renters. It doesn’t do anything to stop that.”
Mac Properties’ Cassel said the company would sign onto the voluntary agreement; it has not done so yet. He noted that the pledge would not mandate any specific changes to Mac’s current business practices.
Write to Georgia Kromrei at [email protected]