Is Chase Bank a Slumlord?

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Residents of an apartment building at 7263 S. Coles Ave., along with their advocates from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), rallied outside JP Morgan Chase’s downtown headquarters on July 15 to demand that the bank maintain their homes.

The tenants claimed that Chase, which received $25 billion in federal funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) last year, let their foreclosed building “waste away.” Many of the families said they feared becoming homeless.

For the past two years, they claimed that Chase, who has been responsible for maintaining the property since 2008, hadn’t honored its responsibility, resulting in deterioration of the building to such a degree that the City stepped in and ordered residents to vacate the property.

Crystal Richards, a tenant of the building who has six children ages 14 to several months old, told Residents’ Journal after the rally that she was worried about finding a place to live with her family.

“We’re being evicted Saturday. And as of right now, I don’t have anywhere to go,” she said. Richards said that she had been paying her rent faithfully to the manager of the building, and added that she was rallying with the others at the bank headquarters to get some remedy for her plight.

Richards said she wanted Chase “to get me some funds and place me and my children in a home or apartment somewhere,” she said.

Sean Brown, another tenant of the building on South Coles, told RJ after the press conference that he had already sent his three small children to stay with relatives because of the deteriorating conditions at the building. Brown said the building was afflicted with mold and hazardous electrical equipment. He said he feared the building could “catch on fire any time.”
“And Chase knew this because Chase is the one that came out to give an appraisal of the building,” Brown added. “They did nothing.”

Brown said that there are no locks on the outside doors and some ceilings have caved in throughout the building.

“There are just problems, and some of these kids will probably have to go to the hospital,” he said.

Brown added that up until recently, the tenants had no idea that the building was in foreclosure.

He said the tenants received a letter saying that they would have to be moved out in mid-July. “Some of these people have small children and they have no place to go. We’re asking that Chase does something to rectify this because it is way out of control. And it’s sad to see that in 2010, this is how we treat our people. It’s inhumane, and it’s unjust,” he declared.

“We need help and we need it now.

“Relocation fees, to help people move into a better apartment or something. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done immediately.

MTO Director John Bartlett told RJ that banks that foreclose on rental properties should have some responsibility to assist tenants facing the threat of homelessness.

“We’re hoping that Chase is going to take some responsibility and help these tenants out in a timely manner. Like today or tomorrow. So that they can get some relocation fees. We’re not talking that much money. Only $20,000,” he said.

“We’ll be calling them and setting up a meeting to figure out what can they do.”

Bartlett added that they would also be contacting city officials to try and secure any homelessness prevention monies for the tenants.

Organizers with MTO claimed that foreclosed rental properties across the city are deteriorating because the banks responsible are not maintaining them. Many low-income tenants are forced to choose between living in substandard conditions or leaving their homes.

MTO and the tenants from South Coles Avenue proposed a Foreclosure Stabilization Program, which they said would promote building maintenance and preservation and resources to keep tenants housed and prevent displacement, abandoned and vacant buildings. The group presented a letter of their demands to Chase spokesperson Tom Kelly outside the bank.

Chase Responds

Kelly told MTO members that Chase was not the responsible, court-appointed receiver for the building in September 2008. He said Chase had a lien on the building then, but a judge appointed someone else to manage and maintain the building.

“The receiver works for the judge,” he said.

Kelly told RJ in a one-on-one interview in the lobby of the bank building after the rally that there was nothing the bank could do about the situation.

“There was a landlord who had the building. We had a loan on the building. We foreclosed. We then got the ownership of the property in May of this year, and then a month later, we sold it to a new landlord.

“We are not the owner of the building,” he said.

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