Imagine being a pregnant woman, just a month away from having a new baby, moving into a new rental home, preparing to paint the walls of your new baby’s bedroom, when in the dark of night there’s a knock on your door. It’s the highest ranking non-elected Village official, backed up by police officers, and he’s demanding that you leave your house or else have your baby in jail. According to Oak Lawn resident Angel Marie Zapata, that’s exactly what happened to her.
Angel’s story began in February, when she moved from Chicago to Oak Lawn, near 109th and Komensky. She and her husband chose Oak Lawn in order to be near Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, where her son is buried. If her son couldn’t live with her, she would live near her son.
In March, the problems with the house became too much to bear. According to Angel, an infestation of mice, ants, spiders, mold, mildew, standing water, and crumbling walls forced her to contact the property management company they were renting from, Care Property Management of Hickory Hills. Angel also contacted the Village’s Property Maintenance Department. Angel informed Care Property Management in writing that she would not be paying rent for May (two months away at the time) if she wasn’t provided a plan of action to address the issues.
When Angel didn’t receive a response, her family started looking for another home in Oak Lawn. They found a listing online for a 3 bed, 2 bath home in the Eagle Ridge neighborhood. The listing agent said if Angel didn’t like this house, he had several others in the area. They looked at the house twice, signed a lease agreement, put down a security deposit and first month’s rent.
Then they started the process of moving in. They got the power turned on. They moved their belongings. But it seemed there was a bureaucratic snafu with the water. There was no water service to the house.
Angel contacted the landlord, who told her that the previous tenant had a past due balance that needed to be taken care of. Angel went to Village Hall to rectify the situation. She would pay the balance herself if necessary. She just needed water. Her baby was due soon. Things had to be working.
What happened next isn’t quite so clear. Somehow the matter worked its way up to Oak Lawn’s Village Manager Larry Deetjen, the highest-ranking non-elected Village official. According to Angel, three weeks after moving in, Deetjen and two Oak Lawn Police Department detectives showed up at her house. They informed Angel’s husband that the listing agent / landlord didn’t have the right to rent the property. That the lease that Angel signed wasn’t valid. They came with a lineup of photos for her husband to view, asking to point out anyone who looked like the listing agent / landlord. Angel’s husband did not recognize anyone in the lineup.
Angel tried to contact the actual real estate agent for the property, Alberto Diaz of NuVision Real Estate in Chicago. Angel wanted to work something out that was legitimate. She liked the house, she was about to have a baby. She just needed to get the water turned on. Diaz refused to talk to her.
Then Angel noticed upon coming home that a number of police officers were stationed in her neighborhood and her neighbors would no longer talk to her. Around 10:30pm, Larry Deetjen allegedly showed up at her door. He told her she had no right to be in the house, and if she or her husband set foot on the property, they would be arrested for criminal trespassing. According to Angel, the Village Manager threatened her, stating that she didn’t want to have her baby in jail.
“Who does he think he is?” Angel asked. “He’s not the Sheriff.”
In Illinois, evictions must go through the court system. Sheriff’s deputies then carry out eviction notices, and if necessary, removal. Recently, Deetjen reported to the Trustees that a “team effort involving multiple village departments thwarted an effort to defraud Fannie Mae and squat in a home…in our community. Quick action got the Fannie Mae fraud division involved and attempt to secure a water turn on was denied. Oak Lawn police have the matter under full investigation as fictitious names and documents were used.”
The Oak Lawn Leaf does not know if the memo written by Deetjen is referring to Angel’s case. If it is the same incident, he did not report to the Trustees that the alleged squatter had been defrauded. Instead, he claimed that fraud was only be perpetrated on Fannie Mae. It also appears, based on Angel Zapata’s story, that the “teamwork” involved him and the use of the police. Evictions are handled by the owner of the property and do not involve the village or the local police.
Angel and her husband, feeling that they could not risk endangering their unborn baby, left their new house in Eagle Ridge and returned to the pest-infested home on Komensky, to which they still held a lease. They took heed of Deetjen’s warning, and arranged for their belongings to be moved.
Now, Angel is being evicted from the Komensky house for failure to pay the rent, despite informing Care Property Management that rent would not be paid until the conditions of the house were improved.
“I feel like Oak Lawn is out to get me,” Angel said. “I’m not some criminal. I work. I hold a bachelor’s (degree).” Angel Zapata contacted the Oak Lawn Leaf to tell her story.
“I wanted a better home for my baby. Now, I’m out $4,950. And soon I won’t have a place to live.”
- [A message left with the Village Manager’s assistant was not returned prior to publication.]