In lawsuit, tenants accuse Woodstock landlord of retaliation

WOODSTOCK – A Woodstock couple who led a push for tenant rights have entered a legal dispute with their landlord, who they say served them eviction papers as retaliation for their public outcry.

According to the couple’s lawyer, one other tenant has filed a lawsuit and several others could be on the way.

In a lawsuit against Woodstock-based Advantage Plus Inc., Bill Zieske and Denise Halverson allege property damage from neglect of needs, consumer fraud, breach of the lease and assault, among other claims.

The 61-page defense and counterclaim came in response to a forcible entry and detainer action filed by Advantage Plus after the couple didn’t comply with two eviction notices, according to the lawsuit. Advantage Plus was moving to evict the couple because of failure to pay rent or late fees, for using the property as a business office and for interfering with showing the property, according to the lawsuit.

Zieske and Halverson deny those claims.

Advantage Plus President Mary Brown declined to answer specific questions about the lawsuit when reached by phone, but called back with a statement.

“We at Advantage Plus Inc. deny Zieske’s allegations and have no further comment at this time, as we are in litigation with this tenant,” she said.

In the fall, the married couple helped gather a group of current and former tenants to talk of similar experiences at a Woodstock City Council meeting. The group spoke of leaky roofs and faulty home appliances, but also of intimidation and neglect from their landlord. Many, but not all, named Advantage Plus.

The city passed a property maintenance ordinance in October, a measure billed as a “tool” for combating law bending landlords.

“These people are victims,” said Dominic Buttitta, the couple’s attorney. “I took on this case because this needs to be brought to an end.”

Buttitta said he’s “in conversations with multiple tenants and former tenants” about pursuing legal action against Woodstock landlords for violating Illinois tenant law. He said the case between Zieske, Halverson and Advantage Plus represents a more extreme situation.

“This has been intentional, willful actions on behalf of the landlord against my client,” Buttitta said.

The lawsuit alleges that problems present when the couple moved into their home at 307 W. Jackson St. – including a leaky roof and faulty deck – have not been fixed more than nine months later.

The suit claims the relationship soured further after Zieske and Halverson brought the issues to the public eye. It alleges that Brown stalked Zieske and filed a police report that the opposite was happening. It also alleges Brown harassed the couple and, on more than one occasion, assaulted them.

No charges were brought after an Aug. 21 incident, the only time Woodstock police were alerted to any incident of assault involving the two sides.

On that day, Halverson told police that Brown put her hand on her shoulder and shoved her, but she showed no signs of battery, and a witness had left the scene before the alleged incident, Police Chief Robert Lowen said.

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