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Rogers Park trans woman alleges landlord discrimination
by Matt Simonette
2014-10-12

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A Rogers Park woman has filed a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, alleging that her landlord is trying to illegally evict her from her apartment because she is transgender and her fiance is Black.

Michelle Roberts, 6413 N. Glenwood Ave., was allegedly informed by representatives of her landlord, Zoran Knezev, in mid-September that Knezev was unable to rent out other spaces in his building because prospective tenants were put off by both by Roberts' gender identity and the race of her fiance, Sidney Morgan.

Knezev allegedly used racial epitaphs when referring to Morgan, and forbade him from spending the night in Roberts' apartment, according to the Sept. 22 complaint.

Roberts leased the apartment from Knezev in March 2014. The terms of that lease, however, have now come into question.

For $450 a month, Roberts was essentially leasing her bedroom and access to the common spaces in her apartment. Knezev moved other individuals, each of them on separate leases, into the other bedrooms of the apartment.

Roberts additionally paid a $450 security deposit. According to the complaint, she was the only tenant asked to pay it. Knesev and his representatives also entered the apartment unannounced on several occasions, she said.

All those other individuals subsequently moved out, and Knesev blamed Roberts. After one such tenant left in the middle of the night, a maintenance man on Sept. 15 allegedly confronted Roberts and informed her that she had 10 days to vacate the premises. Roberts and Morgan said that her rent was paid in full and on time, and that she kept the apartment clean.

"They said that they were losing $900 a month because of who I am," Roberts said. The maintenance man allegedly said that if she did not leave, he and his brother, who he said was a sheriff's deputy, would have her property thrown out. He added that the tenant had moved out because Roberts "made her uncomfortable."

Roberts said that the tenant in question, however, was an African American lesbian with whom she got along, who left because of a roach infestation. Roberts added that she too had also complained of roaches in the unit, and showed a text message correspondence about the matter with Knesev's leasing agent, a woman whom she only knew as "Jessica."

Four days after the exchange with the maintenance man, Knesev arrived at the apartment and told Roberts he would give her 30 days to leave, and also offered to give her $200 to help with the move. According to the complaint, he warned her, "You don't want to see my other side."

"I don't have savings," Roberts said. "I'm not prepared to move in a month."

The complaint also alleges that Knesev called Morgan a racial epitaph in late August, when Morgan phoned Knesev to complain about another tenant's excessive drug use and the landlord's failure to change the apartment locks after tenants left.

In a text message, Jessica told Roberts via text message that Morgan could no longer spend the night in the apartment. Though Roberts' lease specified she could not have guests stay longer than two weeks, "There's no way he could have known how much time I was, or was not, spending there," Morgan said.

Knesev declined to comment on the specific allegations when Windy City Times reached him for comment. He did, however, vehemently deny that he had discriminated against Roberts.

"I just retired after 49 years in service in my job, and nobody has ever accused me of discrimination," he said, adding that he had been complying with the requirements from the complaint and had witnesses who would attest to his civil treatment of his tenants.

For the moment, Roberts is unsure of where to go. She was injured on the job and is, for the moment, supporting herself mainly through a worker's compensation package. The matter has become further complicated as city inspectors began taking notice of the condition of the building.

"They came back up from the basement and said, 'We could spend five hours down there,'" Morgan said.

He and Roberts will wait until the discrimination claim against Knesev is settled before pursing legal options. They informed the office of Cook County Board Commissioner Larry Suffredin about the situation and said his staff was responsive and helpful.

"We're not sure what to do now," Morgan said. "At first, Michelle just wanted to stay until her lease was done. Now we don't even know if the lease is legal, and we don't want to keep giving this landlord money."

Roberts said she feared her situation might become a common one as Rogers Park welcomes more gay and transgendered individuals who are priced out of other neighborhoods: "A lot of LGBT people are moving north, and they're going to be butting heads with these old-school landlords."


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