Tenants sue Pangea Properties, saying it risked safety by ignoring repairs

Pete Martay’s company has racked up thousands of city code violation complaints, lawsuit alleges

Pangea Properties, among Chicago’s biggest landlords, was sued by more than a dozen tenants who said the landlord ignored repeated requests for repairs and threatened their safety by deferring property maintenance.

The 153-page class-action complaint called Pangea the city’s largest landlord, saying it has 7,500 units across 423 properties on the South and West sides. The suit says it racked up 5,000 reports of city violations since 2009, including rodent and insect infestations and no heat in the winter.

The lawsuit accuses Pangea of routinely ignoring calls for repairs from tenants and, in cases when it does take action, failing to complete an adequate fix in favor of a temporary and unsustainable solutions. It’s seeking an injunction to appoint a receiver to manage Pangea’s Chicago properties and award two months rent or two times the value of damages sustained to each of the tenants.

“My son’s mother got sick from the persistent mold in our unit,” tenant Willie Bradley said in a statement. “When we first brought up the mold issue to Pangea, they spray-painted over it. After two years of practically begging Pangea to fix the mold issue, they cut the mold out of the drywall, but then left a hole in the ceiling for weeks. They covered up the hole with a plastic bag. Anything could have crawled into my house.”

Pangea called the allegations unfounded.

“While we take all resident concerns seriously, we strongly deny the allegations made in the complaint, which run counter to the high service standards that have allowed us to become one of the largest providers of workforce housing in Chicago,” a Pangea spokesperson said.

The company said that it “routinely” works with city officials to address building code issues to ensure properties are safe and in compliance, and said residents can reach a Pangea representative through multiple means, including an online portal and by phone, or by visiting a local office.

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The class-action suit, led by Chicago attorney Chris Wilmes, said the company illegally shifts maintenance costs to tenants who request repairs through “maintenance chargeback fees,” warned tenants on low incomes about the fees when they report problems in their homes, and threatened eviction to quash grievances.

Pangea, established in 2008 as the Great Recession arrived, entered the Chicago market in 2009, where it’s since spent more than $400 million on multifamily real estate purchases. One of its founders promoted the company as the “good guys catalyzing economic revival in South and West side neighborhoods and providing affordable housing to the working class,” the lawsuit said.

The company has filed the most eviction cases of any Chicago landlord between 2009 and 2019, the Chicago Reader reported three years ago. The lawsuit calls Pangea Chicago’s largest evictor over the previous decade and said it remained so during the pandemic, citing Cook County property records showing it initiated more than 13,000 eviction cases since 2009. ​

Those were the most in Chicago, and Pangea provided data to the outlet that showed it took almost 17 percent of its tenants to eviction court annually between 2013 and 2017 on average, winning over $11 million in 50 judgements during the last decade.

Amid the pandemic, Pangea completed 84 evictions despite an eviction moratorium in effect for most of the health crisis, the lawsuit said.

Pangea was said by local brokers earlier this year to have shopped a large portion of its Chicago portfolio for sale, although it never made a big deal. A spokesperson for the company earlier this summer denied that the company had seriously considered selling a significant chunk of its Chicago assets while staying open to entertaining offers. The company has more than 13,000 housing units under control in Illinois, Indiana and Maryland.

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