Steven Leidner, who has lived in a one-bedroom corner unit at the Hamilton on the Bay apartment tower in Edgewater for 18 years, sensed something was up when his lease was up in November and noticed the building’s new owner had added a provision to their leases.
“I noticed an early termination clause that wasn’t there before,” said Leidner, 66. “I asked the building’s manager about it and he said ‘Oh, we would never kick you out. We’re in the business of generating revenue from renters. This is only if we need to move you into a different unit in the building while we are doing renovations.’”
Leidner said he asked the manager to include that wording in the lease but was told no. After consulting with his attorney, Leidner went ahead and signed the lease for $1,760 per month, minus a monthly discount of $264 to make up for all the noise and clamor caused by the ongoing renovations.
“I have a disability and I couldn’t expose myself to COVID,” he said. “I was not in a position to go all over town looking for a new place. But I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
That shoe came in the form of a letter from Aimco/AIR, the Denver-based company that bought the 28-story bayfront building at 555 NE 34th St. in Aug. 2020 for $80.9 million. The letter, which was slipped under the door of tenants and sent via certified email, informed every resident in the building their leases were being terminated on July 16, 2021, so the company could complete renovations that had been ongoing since Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Those previous renovations, however, had been repairs to fix the water damage caused by the storm, removing mold, replacing carpeting and the installation of new windows. The new renovations being done by Aimco involve the gutting of all existing units in the aging building and the improvement of common areas to make the property more competitive with the shiny new luxury towers that have sprouted around Edgewater.
“Unfortunately, the redevelopment project has reached a phase where renovations will impact your Apartment Home and will block access to it,” the letter reads. “In accord with the Termination Option of your lease, we must terminate your lease and ask you to vacate your apartment home on or before July 16, 2021.”
The roughly 200 existing residents at the building, who occupy around 130 of the building’s total 265 apartments, are claiming Aimco pulled a bait-and-switch when they signed new leases with the owner, who they say enticed them to renew their leases early by offering 18-month agreements instead of the usual 12.
But the new lease also included an early termination clause, something the leases by the previous management company, Bainbridge Management, did not.
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