Gentrification on 53rd street

Building at 1363-1367 E. 53rd St., anchored by the former Freehling Pot and Pan store. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Tenants at 1367 E. 53rd St. have been informed by the new ownership and management company that their leases would not be renewed. Tenants whose leases extend beyond June 15 have been asked to voluntarily vacate by that date in exchange for rent adjustments.

The building, which was formerly controlled by and housed Freehling Pot and Pan, was sold to RDG Funds LLC, 30 S. Wacker Dr., on March 16. The two upper floors of apartments, which are highly sought-after units for students and people living on limited incomes because of their below-market rents and prime location, including families with small children, are now managed by Peak Properties, 2815 W. Roscoe St.

Tenant A, who wished not to be named for fear of retribution said, “It’s different to read about and observe the process of gentrification, but it’s very different to be directly affected.”

All tenants interviewed requested anonymity.

The Herald was unable to reach any Freehlings for comment.

Tenant B received a voicemail from Miguel Lopez, the building’s Peak Property leasing agent, on March 29 regarding the end of the lease and asking about renewal. On April 3, Lopez left another voicemail saying that RDG Funds had decided not to renew any leases because of work that needed to be done to the property. Lopez urged the tenant to make arrangements to move out of the building at their lease’s conclusion.

“I work a full-time job at the University, and this rent combined with my utilities is 31 percent of my yearly income,” said Tenant B. “There isn’t another studio apartment available at this price in Hyde Park.”

On April 12, Lopez wrote to Tenant C, whose lease extended into the latter half of 2018, saying that the ownership would like to vacate the entire building by June 15 or earlier and offered to pro-rate the tenant’s rent.

In an email also sent on April 12 to Tenant C, RDG Funds building asset manager Natalie Wynn detailed the work that had already been done—two unit inspections, asbestos removal and remedying an underground oil storage tank—and the planned updates, including an online portal for rent payments and maintenance requests, new windows, new hallway lighting, carpet and paint, a new laundry room and bike storage area, masonry restoration and added security cameras. She said that units would be renovated as they vacated, with stainless steel appliances added.

“Please rest assured that we will absolutely honor all lease terms and will work diligently with tenants on requests to extend leases or to move out early,” Wynn said. “If [tenants] feel that [their] respective lease[s] is not being honored, please reach out to me directly, and we will address any concerns with our ownership and management.”

When reached for comment, Peak Properties property manager Kent Brickles said his company was following the leases and being upfront and honest with tenants.

“They’re rehabing the building,” Brickles said. “It’s a very old building, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And the amount of rent that was being collected from these people, especially in that neighborhood—it’s crazy below market. It’s just a matter of prime real estate in an area that’s being underutilized.”

The building’s current tenants “seem to have everybody else’s interests at heart,” said Brickles, who said he understood how having new ownership and outside management could be scary but cautioned that Peak Properties was not made up of “faceless, non-human beings who don’t care about our tenants.”

Brickles said he understood that the process was difficult and would displace people. However, “if the tenants were giving us a chance or talking to us directly, we try to find people other places to go,” he said. “We try to recommend things. We try to make sure that if people are that afraid, concerned or scared, we try to do everything we can to make sure people are taken care of. We’re not here blindly kicking people out on the streets.”

Tenant C said they didn’t have any compaints about the state of the apartment and wants to stay in the building.

“This building is where I decided to live. It’s where I built a home, and I don’t have any complaints about the current state of the building,” said Tenant C. “It’s serving my needs perfectly well as is. And understanding that the new owner will be allowed to make their own decisions about their rentals, I would appreciate the opportunity to stay and live in my home.”