Run of the mill court fight creates fireworks
By Bob Okon email@example.com March 21, 2013 9:24PM
A view of the building at 10 S. Chicago St. (at left) Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 23, 2013 2:27PM
A $1,000 landlord dispute shook Joliet city hall this week.
Joliet City Manager Thomas Thanas’ short-lived resignation was sparked by a legal tussle over how much rent a tenant should be paying at a building called “The Law Center” at 10 S. Chicago St.
The matter has involved the law firm of a Joliet councilman, a subpoena to the mayor, and finally Thanas’ brief resignation.
“Nobody wanted it to get this far,” said Dave Carlson, the attorney for the tenant in the case.
Carlson is handling the matter pro bono, meaning he is not charging for his time, and said, “This is one of those things that didn’t seem like it would be so complicated.”
Carlson is a law partner with Councilman Robert O’Dekirk, who was among council members raising questions with Thanas at a public meeting over the lease arrangement at the building. The city acquired the building last year to make room for the future downtown transportation center. O’Dekirk and other council members said they did not know the seller of the building, not the city, would get the rent after the offices were acquired a year ago.
O’Dekirk at a Monday meeting suggested the city could be missing out on “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in revenue, which was one part of a spirited discussion that prompted Thanas, who said later that he felt under attack, to turn in a letter of resignation after the meeting.
“It’s not generating hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue as was said at the meeting,” said attorney Bruce Zumstein, who represents the Matesevak family that sold the building but continues to collect rent.
Zumstein wouldn’t say how much the Matesevaks collect, saying it’s a private firm.
But it is more than what Thanas reported Tuesday, when the council voted to reject his letter of resignation. Thanas said the building generates $1,000 a month in rent, an amount small enough that he described the controversy over the matter as “silliness.”
“It’s a lot more than that,” said attorney Judy DeVriendt, an attorney who rents space at 10 S. Chicago St.
“I like Tom Thanas, and I don’t want to get Tom Thanas in trouble,” DeVriendt said. But she wanted to point out that she pays $2,500 a month and likely will pay $3,500 monthly retroactive to January to settle her dispute with building management.
That court case has included a subpoena to Mayor Thomas Giarrante. DeVriendt’s lawyer wanted Giarrante in court to confirm the validity of the city contract that gives the Matesevak family the right to collect rent.
Giarrante did not show up in court, saying he had a knee problem that needed attention and he could not postpone a doctor’s appointment. He may not be called back if the dispute is settled as expected.
DeVriendt’s firm occupies four of the five offices still generating rent at the building. The offices reportedly go for $1,000 a month. So, the building may be generating $5,000 a month tops, although Zumstein would not confirm that estimate.
Thanas said he got the $1,000 figure from building management. Zumstein said he believes there is confusion, noting that the $1,000 represents the disputed amount in court.
Even so, Thanas said the difference is not enough to make him regret the arrangement made to keep the seller in place to collect rent and maintain the building after the city bought it.
Thanas said the city does not have receipts or records of the amount of rent collected at 10 S. Center St. But, he said, he knows how much space goes for downtown and he knows how many tenants were in the building when the city bought it.
“I knew it was not tens of thousands of dollars in rent. That I did know,” Thanas said.
For the amount of money the building could generate, he said, it made sense to leave the owner in place as the building manager to deal with maintenance and other expenses as well as tenant disputes.
As for council members thinking that the city, not the Matesevak family, would get the rent for two years, Thanas said, “I’ve taken 100 percent responsibility for that omission.”
One more thing.
“If I had known,” Thanas said, “that this very, very small item would have created the controversy and the heartache that it has, I would have structured the deal differently.”