DeKALB – Sasha Cohen, a resident of the Hunter Ridgebrook apartment complex in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood, said he has no love for Hunter Properties as a tenant of theirs for the past two years.
Cohen said he has seen black mold and open holes in walls of the apartment units.
"I've seen just what kind of landlord they are," Cohen said.
During Monday's city council meeting, Cohen was one of several area residents that expressed worry about a proposed special service area (SSA) for Hunter Properties, the city’s largest landlord, to pay additional property taxes that would go toward city public safety costs near the Annie Glidden North neighborhood. The commenters cited concerns about the additional property taxes for the landlord resulting in rent increases that will pay for more surveillance for an already highly-policed area.
First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris said it has been frustrating for the city to deal with the landlord, who she said allegedly enter into verbal rental agreements with tenants. She said the city's in 'a tough spot' after trying to address problems with Hunter Properties – including nearly 500 code violations – in recent years. She said she's attempted to research ways to better hold the landlord accountable to its tenants and, though the SSA isn't a perfect solution, she doesn't have alternative ideas.
"It's the only thing left in our arsenal and we're going to pull it out," Morris said.
The DeKalb City Council voted, 7-0, to approve the proposed SSA during their Monday meeting. The vote comes after DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas outlined the proposal ahead of an October public hearing for the SSA and community leaders raised the concern about the SSA's creation risking rent increases for tenants during that public hearing.
The proposed SSA will only apply to Hunter Properties – specifically properties near Edgebrook Drive – and the now city-owned and vacant Edgebrook Manor Apartment Complex, 912 Edgebrook Drive, which is expected to be demolished soon and turned into a park. City officials have said they expect to get up to $100,000 per year from Hunter Properties from the SSA, which will go toward security cameras and other public safety measures for the area that DeKalb Interim Police Chief Bob Redel confirmed Monday has one of the largest police call volumes.
Nicklas said the ownership and management of the Hunter Ridgebrook apartment complex has shown they 'have no interest in doing the right thing.' He said while the city's dealt with controversial landlords in the past, Hunter Properties is different because that operate around 1,000 units in city limits.
“It’s a cancer on our community,” Nicklas said. "We have lots of issues – pension crisis, COVID and all of the rest of that. This is one that affects us and affects the residents here more intimately than anything else we've been talking about tonight."
In opposition to the vote, Cohen said he believed the City Council had the opportunity to actually listen to the concerns of the people who live in the area, but rather than do so, he said, he believes council members 'talked themselves in circles' to rationalize what he fears is a rent increase.
"It was an attack on my neighborhood, my street, my building, the people I live amongst and with," Cohen said. He said he thinks council members are 'out of touch' and should be 'voted out of office' and city staff should be fired. "It shows a complete lack of understanding and complete lack of respect for the people who live here."
Nicklas had said part of the settlement agreement that spurred the proposed SSA was that Hunter Properties could not voice any opposition to the proposal.
On Thursday, Nicklas the city had received a petition in opposition to the proposal, which allegedly included signatures from one of the landlord's owners. Nicklas said there were a few dozen names on that petition and, after verifying with the DeKalb County clerk, only about 20 of those names were of verified residents in the area. He said there were potentially 113 qualified residents that could have objected to the proposal.
“And so that’s under 20% and that doesn’t arise to the level of 51% [required to not form the SSA,]" Nicklas said.
Members of the DeKalb Tenants Association wrote in a Saturday public social media post tenants need better living conditions and more responsible landlords, not more surveillance and higher rent.
"This is not a solution and will bring about even more problems for renters," association members wrote.
Hunter Properties manager Tiffany Meadows declined comment to Daily Chronicle on Thursday ahead of the meeting. Landlord staff did not provide public comment during the Monday meeting.
Fifth Ward Alderman Scott McAdams said he's in favor of the proposal because if the landlord doesn't pay property taxes, it could be property forfeiture. He said tenants who wouldn't be able to afford rent increases would have until their lease expiration to figure out another place to go.
"I don’t see that there will be an immediate impact on lives of residents," McAdams said.