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Woodstock group pleads to council for tenant rights

Created: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 10:29 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – Woodstock residents Tuesday night told stories of their landlord’s utter neglect of their mold, sewage, flooding and roof issues during a passionate plea to the city for help.

The group – put together recently by a couple of new Woodstock residents – is asking the city to create regulations that will protect them and other tenants from the experiences they laid out Tuesday night in front of City Council members.

About 20 people attended Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in support of the effort. The group has created the website disadvantageplus.blogspot.com, a play on Advantage Plus Property Management, which caught the brunt of accusations Tuesday. One individual who spoke said she had a different landlord but the same experience.

“All of these people would like to live in Woodstock, and they’d like to live with respect, with some basic needs [met] and some assurance that when those things aren’t met, there is some powerful agency to step in and fix it,” said Bill Zieske, who helped organize the group.

Zieske and his wife, Denise Halverson, say they moved to Woodstock from Chicago in May. They rented from Advantage One, but quickly started to find issues with their new place – things like a leaky roof and broken stove.

Zieske, a lawyer, said he had no luck getting the issues addressed. When he asked around, he said, he found his problems were small in comparison to others.

Addressing the council, one couple described 19 straight days during the holidays without power. A single mom said she’d had leaking and flooding issues, which led to mold. Several said they hadn’t received their security deposits back, and one said he was invoiced for problems that were present when he moved in and never fixed.

Several said the landlord was issued citations after they called the city inspector, but the issues were never resolved. Zieske said the next step – taking the landlord to court – wasn’t a reasonable option for most.

“In my experience, it is never worth going to court over $1,000,” he said, referencing the associated lawyer fees and court costs. “But $1,000 is a heck of a lot of money to me, and to these people.”

After a handful of tenants spoke, an emotional Mayor Brian Sager apologized on behalf of the city and said he was heartbroken by the fact some said they’d chosen to move out of Woodstock rather than face the realities of a local landlord.

The city is limited by what it can do because it isn’t yet a home-rule community, Sager said, but he suggested a collaborative effort will begin to look at creating an ordinance to help the situation.

“As we look to enact property maintenance ordinances, we want to make sure that we are balancing those needs of individual tenants, those needs for the aesthetic and upkeep of neighborhoods, with that important [point] of personal property rights,” Sager said.

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