Mayor Biss, Evanston landlord sued for uninhabitable living conditions in $10 million class-action lawsuit


Daily file illustration by Angeli Mittal

Three tenants filed a $10 million class-action lawsuit against an Evanston landlord.

Jorja Siemons, City Editor

Three former tenants have filed a $10 million class-action lawsuit against an Evanston landlord and his son, as well as Mayor Daniel Biss, for restitution after living in “crumbling properties.”

Carlene Clarke filed the suit last December — citing infestations, water damage, mold problems and sewage leaks — against Sargon Isaac, the owner of the unit she rented in the 2100 block of Emerson. The lawsuit accuses Isaac of racial discrimination and alleges his actions violated the federal Fair Housing Act. 

The suit states that when Clarke and her family moved in last April, they faced “uninhabitable conditions” including a leaking roof, inoperable heating and cracked walls and window frames. 

Additionally, the suit alleges the unit had a rodent infestation so severe that the family could hear “mice and rats scratching and clawing in the walls every day.” 

According to her legal complaint, Clarke alerted Isaac to the property’s conditions, but he allegedly told her that “every country has people who must struggle, and in the United States those people are Black.” 

Clarke also named the landlord’s son, Peter Isaac, as a defendant in the Dec. 23, 2021 filing, alleging he gave his father preferential treatment due to his position on the Evanston Plan Commission. 

According to previous versions of the Commission’s webpage, Peter Isaac served as chair but his term expired in April 2021. The current webpage does not list him as a member.

Danielle Malaty of Kopka Pinkus Dolin, Sargon and Peter Isaac’s attorney, could not be reached for comment. 

Biss has also been named as a defendant in his capacity as the city leader. The suit calls for the Circuit Court of Cook County to “put a stop to Sargon Isaac’s racism and Evanston’s protection of that racism.” 

City Communications Manager Patrick Deignan said the city does not comment on pending litigation. 

According to court documents, Sargon Isaac tried to evict Clarke following the lawsuit’s filing. In response, a Cook County judge issued a temporary restraining order on Jan. 18 blocking that action and ordering the landlord to complete apartment repairs.

Sheryl Ring, the attorney who filed the suit, also said she does not comment on ongoing litigation. 

Residents Radiance Collins and Victoria Fahnbulleh, who have also been Sargon Isaac’s tenants, joined the suit and corroborated Clarke’s concerns about the defendants.  

Collins entered a one-year lease agreement for an Evanston property operated by Sargon Isaac last December. The lawsuit alleges that Collins’ heating and plumbing were inoperable, and at the time Isaac neglected to disclose the more than $25,000 already owed on the electric bill. 

According to court documents, after Sargon Isaac threatened to evict Collins unless she paid the rent in full, local nonprofit Connections for the Homeless provided money to help her pay rent. 

Collins, through an attorney, terminated her lease on Feb. 8, according to the suit.

Fahnbulleh also alleges Sargon Isaac refused to fix a broken heater in her apartment, where she was his tenant from from 2016 to 2021. This led to frozen pipes and a leaking kitchen ceiling last winter. 

According to court documents, Sargon Isaac owns and manages over 50 residential housing units throughout Evanston and has been conducting business “under the fictitious name ‘SI Properties.’” While the lawsuit said two “SI Properties” exist in the state of Illinois, neither indicate Isaac as affiliated and connected. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons

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