DeKalb tenants sue Suburban Apartments over water issues

Tenants claim they were without hot water for months last fall

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Two people who lived at Suburban Apartments on Twombly Road near DeKalb are suing the company that owns the complex, claiming they went months without hot water and had other water problems while living there.

Robyn Rogers and Sara Atkins filed a lawsuit against Naperville-based MCJ Investments LLC seeking a refund of 60 percent of the rent they have paid since August until the case is resolved. The suit also seeks refunds for all other affected tenants in the nearly 500-unit apartment complex, according to court documents. It also asks that security deposits be refunded and that the company cover the cost of the litigation.

DeKalb County received 14 individual complaints regarding the hot water and heat issue last fall, Director of Health Protection Greg Maurice said.

Joe Lovelace, director of the Students’ Legal Assistance Division of Student Affairs at Northern Illinois University, filed the suit on behalf of the tenants in October. Lovelace didn’t return messages seeking comment.

MCJ Investments is fighting the suit and claims the allegations are “moot” because as of December new boilers had been installed and the problems fixed, according to a response filed by Sycamore attorney Timothy Conklin on behalf of the company. The company has said it was aware of some water problems, but denied that it hid the problems from prospective renters, disputed the scope of the problems and denied allegations that the units were rendered uninhabitable by the water problems and utility disruptions during repairs. Conklin didn’t return messages seeking comment.

A message left at the apartment complex’s office also wasn’t returned.

Atkins said in court records that she signed a lease in July for $615 a month and moved into the complex in early August. She discovered there was no hot water the day after she moved in, according to court records.

“On a daily basis in August, September and October ... I have been without hot water or water completely,” she said in the lawsuit. “I was not able to use my apartment because of the lack of hot water. I showered at either the NIU Recreation Center or out of town at the home of friends and family. I started using paper plates as I was unable to wash dishes, I incurred expenses in eating out and driving to shower.”

Atkins said she wasn’t told about the problems before signing the lease and wouldn’t have leased the apartment if she’d known about the water issues. She said she moved out in October because of the ongoing problems.

Rogers, who paid $660 a month, also said she wasn’t told about the problems before signing a lease in May. She said her roommate moved in with a boyfriend. When Rogers asked management about the problems, she was told the problems would be fixed “next week,” according to the lawsuit. She also noted that she had no hot water at all for 12 days in August.

MCJ Investments bought the complex, which includes Suburban Apartments (on Annie Glidden) and Suburban Estates (1400 Twombly Road), for $10.5 million in 2015. At the time, the new owners promised improvements including renovations. The three members of the limited liability company are Justin Bedi, Manpreet Bedi and Christine Bedi, according to state records. Rents range from $475 for a studio to $1,000 for a three-bedroom apartment, according to the company's website.

The complex has about 500 units over about 20 buildings, DeKalb Township Property Tax Assessor John Hietikko said. The complex was built in the 1960s, according to Daily Chronicle archives.

Both the DeKalb County Health Department and the Planning and Zoning Department worked with MCJ Investments when it was addressing the boiler issues, DeKalb County Public Health Administrator Lisa Gonzalez said. She said a boiler that supplied hot water and heat to eight buildings was failing and had to be replaced.

“The Planning and Zoning Department worked with the contractor on site to approve plans and the Health Department fielded calls from tenants,” Gonzalez said. “The Health Department also conducted outreach to the tenants to provide information on project timeline, roles and responsibilities and safety messaging for the use of portable heaters.”

Gonzalez said the issue was resolved Nov. 2. If the problem left any units uninhabitable, the DeKalb County Health Department wasn’t aware of it, she said.

“The issue took place right as the colder weather was approaching and it is our understanding that the complex did offer space heaters for tenants,” Gonzalez said.

The case is next due in court Friday.