Complaint Review: North Park Elementary School
North Park Elementary School Swan Development Chicago, Eric Moulyon RICO, Slander, Corruption Chicago Illinois
Nasty fights with neighbors aren't all that rare, but few are as ugly as the one between Raminder Chadha and the school next door.
Chadha and his wife, Nabeelah, paid $225,000 seven years ago for a run-down, fire-damaged house in North Center, with plans to spend another $165,000 to make it livable again. But for the past five years, they've been locked in a grudge match with North Park Elementary School, their neighbor on Montrose Avenue, that's erupted into a court battle.
Chadha accuses the private school's now-retired principal and a real estate developer of conspiring to squeeze him into selling out to the school, spreading fears of disease-carrying pigeons swooping down on school kids and leading a smear campaign that fingered him as the source of toxic lead in a playground's soil.
The standoff between the school and the Chadhas illustrates how far everyday turf disputes between neighbors can go when they're in a hot, highly valued neighborhood.
According to copies of emails the Chadhas filed with a lawsuit, North Park felt landlocked, without room to grow its playground, and wanted to buy the lot next door, while the Chadhas were trying to move into the district served by Chicago Public Schools' well regarded John C. Coonley School as cheaply as possible. But neither party got what it wanted.
Raminder Chadha alleges in a lawsuit that from early 2010 through late 2012, Lynn Lawrence, who has since retired as the school's principal, orchestrated community complaints about the boarded-up property and nudged city officials to order it demolished. At the same time, a developer was claiming to represent independent buyers who wanted Chadha's property while in fact he was acting on the school's behalf, according to the complaint, filed in July in Cook County Circuit Court.
‘I’M GOING TO PUSH HIS BUTTONS TODAY’
In subpoenaed emails filed with Chadha's suit, Lawrence wrote that North Park’s proposed purchase of the Chadha home two doors west of the school "should be put to rest before the owner has a better understanding of our role."
Erik Moulton, the president of Chicago-based Swan Development, emailed Lawrence while negotiating a purchase of Chadha's site, that "WE WANT HIM TO BE VERY NERVOUS," referring to Chadha, and "I'm going to push his buttons today."
Moulton, a board member at North Park Elementary School, declined to comment. The defendants in want the case dismissed on the grounds that it was filed too long after the events. Alisa Levin of Levin Law is writing a response this week, saying certain points of law outweigh the statute of limitations.
The suit asks for at least $1 million in punitive damages and alleges civil conspiracy, defamation, tortious interference with a contract, and racketeering.
A spokesman for insurer Liberty Mutual, which represents the school, said the firm does not comment on pending litigation, and a lawyer for the city of Chicago did not respond to requests for comment. Lawrence, who retired in 2014, could not be reached.
Raminder Chadha bought the dilapidated, fire-damaged house at 2035 W. Montrose in July 2008 for $225,000, according to the Cook County Recorder. He expected to spend about $160,000 to renovate the house, said Chadha, an agent with Hometown Real Estate and co-owner of the ServYoSelf yogurt shop on the same block as his home.
Securing financing for the rehab became difficult during the protracted economic downturn, so the house sat unimproved for almost two more years, Chadha said.
In spring 2010, the city cited the property for a dozen building code violations.
Founded in 1980, North Park Elementary has been at 2017 W. Montrose since 1999. In spring 2010, an entity affiliated with the school bought 2033 W. Montrose, a dilapidated house between its building and Chadha's property, for $285,000. The school demolished the house later that year.
At about the same time, Moulton began calling and text-messaging Chadha on behalf of a potential buyer, saying in one message that the buyer planned to live on the site, according to text messages that Chadha stored.
The suit alleges that Lawrence, the principal, tried to keep the heat on Chadha by insistently emailing contacts in then-47th Ward Ald. Eugene Schulter's office to get the property inspected and cited.
In March 2010, Lawrence emailed a city official, asking for help getting Chadha's property inspected for violations, and wrote that "I don't want him to know we're buying (the house between the two properties) before we close on his house."
In mid-June 2010, Chadha turned down an offer from North Park to buy the property for $300,000, saying the amount wouldn't cover buying an equivalent property within Coonley's boundaries, according to emails included in the suit. Several days later Lawrence reported to city officials, by email, that "neighbors have been seeing pigeons swooping down on them as they walk by, and others reported that pigeons were stuck between the 1st floor windows and the boards. GROSS!"
Levin alleges that the steady contact from Lawrence to the city ultimately led to a 2010 order from the city for Chadha to demolish the house.
In January 2011, after Chadha demolished the house, North Park sued him, alleging his demolition had spilled lead into the soil on the school's campus. The school also emailed parents, saying it was closing down the playground between Chadha's lot and the school building because of the lead.
"They basically told the neighborhood that I was poisoning their children," Chadha said.
The lawyer who represented Chadha in that case argued that the lead could just as easily have come from North Park's own demolition of the home it had purchased to make way for the playground. The case was dismissed in November 2011, but Chadha said he was unable secure construction financing while the case was pending.
So he and his wife borrowed money from relatives, sold jewelry and maxed out their credit cards to build the four-bedroom house they moved into in 2012.
Construction cost about $450,000, he said. With the original $225,000 purchase of the site and a $15,000 demolition bill, the couple's total investment in the property is at least $690,000, compared to the $385,000 they planned on spending when they purchased the property in 2008.
The new house is nicer than what they originally expected to move into, but "our credit rating was ruined, we still owe a lot of folks money, and the neighborhood has been told I poured lead into the soil where children play,” Chadha said. “It shouldn't have gone down like this."
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