Hunter Hits Back With $10 Million Lawsuit Against DeKalb

Aug 19, 2019

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, lists Hunter Ridgebrook Properties as the plaintiff. It is managed by Sam Okner and Associates LLC, which manages more than 900 residential units in DeKalb.

Fire extinguishers sit on the stoops of 808 Ridge Drive in DeKalb. In July, a fire started on the third floor of this building - a suspected arson.
Credit Sarah Jesmer

The lawsuit seeks $10 million and argues a violation of Hunter’s constitutional right to the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, saying “No other residential rental property entity within the City of DeKalb has been even remotely subjected to the unequal, unfair and discriminatory treatment as that of Hunter by the City of DeKalb.”

The filing says Hunter purchased an apartment complex near NIU on Ridge Drive in 2014. It contends Hunter’s operation of this property was largely uneventful. 

City and university police, however, have noted the area, known as “Annie Glidden North,” struggles with a disproportionate level of criminal activity.

The lawsuit points to 2017 when the DeKalb City Council began working with Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies for completion of a project known as the Annie Glidden North (AGN) Revitalization Plan.  The suit says the resulting plan would require the city to negotiate with Hunter and the other rental properties managed by Sam Okner and Associates for the sale or substantial modification of the property. Hunter representatives say they were not included in discussions of the plan, and argue they were intentionally excluded.

The lawsuit argues what followed was “an unprecendent [sic] assault on the business interests of Hunter and the other limited liability corporations by conducting hundreds of investigations at all hours of the day and night which resulted in the filing hundreds of ordinances violations against Hunter Properties.”

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges City Manager Bill Nicklas’ recent tenure marked “a sharp escalation of pressure on Hunter and an energy to move forward with the AGN Revitalization Project.” The complaint argues “this ongoing persecution by the City of DeKalb involves a level of scrutiny and harassment which has markedly interfered with Hunter ability to conduct business in that the City is filing ordinance violation cases against Hunter for the most minute infractions.”

The suit also names former city attorney Dean Frieders, noting Frieders also represented the city on a Tax Increment Financing program.

Frieders appeared before Circuit Judge Thomas Doherty and orally moved for the entry of default judgments on ordinance violation cases, including some related to Hunter.

At the time of the entry of these default judgments, the suit alleges Frieders was aware that Judge Doherty and his wife had requested tax increment financing of property owned by them. Hunter says the request was never disclosed by Frieders to Hunter. The lawsuit says failing to disclose the relationship constitutes willful conduct intended to violate the constitutional rights of Hunter. “The enforcement of said Judgments are currently part of the City’s strategy to lien the respective property of Hunter, causing the diminution of its value and the diminishment of its profitability.”

Hunter says it is also facing a loss in revenue, alleging city officials are encouraging residents not to pay rent and to report complaints directly to the city rather that to the Hunter Properties maintenance department.

Hunter says attempts to tear down its reputation have been bolstered by the formation of the Hunter Tenants Association, which the lawsuit says “serves as a mouthpiece for the City in its ongoing effort to denigrate the reputation of Hunter Properties.”

The lawsuit mentions the July 8, 2019, alleged arson event at 808 Ridge Drive. It notes an unknown person set fire to a mattress in a hallway of the building causing extensive damage to seven of the 59 units located within the building. The building remains condemned. Hunter says it retained a registered professional engineer to conduct an extensive inspection who concluded there was no structural damage from the fire.

“The city instead exploited this crime by make [sic] impossible and unreasonable demands on Hunter Properties which, if completed, would devastate the financial viability of this building to operate on a profitable basis.”

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges “The atmosphere of animosity created by the actions and statements of officials from the city have contributed to this lawful business being the target of this life-threatening criminal activity despite the fact that there exists no evidence that Hunter played any role in the commission of these crimes.”