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06/16/97 PRAIRIE MANAGEMENT CORPORATION v. ANNA

June 16, 1997

PRAIRIE MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ANNA BELL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable WILLIE M. WHITING, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication August 5, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Buckley delivered the opinion of the court. Campbell, P.j. and Gallagher, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buckley

JUSTICE BUCKLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Prairie Management Corporation, filed a forcible entry and detainer action against defendant, Anna Bell, seeking to recover possession of the premises in which she and her five children live. After a bench trial, the trial court granted plaintiff possession of defendant's residential unit. Defendant's motion to reconsider and vacate the judgment for possession was denied. On appeal, defendant raises the following issues: (1) whether some of the testimony elicited at trial was inadmissible; (2) whether the trial court's reliance upon the inadmissible evidence constitutes reversible error; (3) whether, assuming that all the testimony elicited at trial was admissible, the court's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence; (4) whether plaintiff's failure to serve its termination notice in accordance with the requirements of the governing statute deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction; and (5) whether plaintiff's failure to serve its termination notice in accordance with the requirements of the governing statute prevented it from establishing an essential element of its prima facie case at trial.

On May 16, 1990, defendant entered into a written lease, subsequently extended, for the premises at 5523 West Washington, Unit 103, Chicago, Illinois, a residential unit at Boulevard Commons Apartments, managed by plaintiff. On February 24, 1995, plaintiff delivered a termination notice to defendant by placing a copy under her door and sending another copy to her by first-class mail. The notice alleged that defendant had violated her lease agreement by engaging in "the sale and distribution of illegal drugs on the premises, which caused the Chicago Police Officers to kick [her] door in on Tuesday night, February 21, 1995."

On May 11, 1995, plaintiff filed a forcible entry and detainer action against defendant seeking possession of the premises. On May 26, 1995, the trial court granted defendant's motion for a continuance and set the case for trial on June 16, 1995.

At trial, plaintiff's first witness was Eric Sanders, a Chicago police officer who works as an off-duty agent for plaintiff's security office. He has been employed by the city as a police officer for 12 years, working as a narcotics officer fighting organized crime for five years. He was working at Boulevard Commons Apartments on February 21, 1995. At approximately 11 p.m., he observed several young men selling illegal drugs on defendant's back porch. Prior to exiting his vehicle, Officer Sanders heard these men hollering "rocks," which he understood to mean rock cocaine. He approached defendant's back porch stairs and announced his office. Two of these men ran into defendant's apartment through the back door. When Officer Sanders reached the apartment, the door was closed in his face. He drew his gun and kicked the door open. Upon entering defendant's apartment, he observed a "bunch of kids." Defendant was not present; however, the officer stated that he believed he saw defendant's brother in the apartment baby-sitting her children.

Two days later, Officer Sanders again observed several men on defendant's back porch selling drugs. He called the 15th district tactical team, who arrived at the scene. Officer Sanders, three on-duty police officers, and two off-duty officers then proceeded back to defendant's unit, where they arrested a man who ran through and out of defendant's apartment carrying a controlled substance.

Officer Sanders concluded his testimony by stating that he spoke with defendant around midnight on February 23, 1995, and told her that he had been to her apartment on two occasions, that he believed drugs were being sold out of her unit, and that he was going to report her activity to plaintiff. Defendant responded by stating that she was not selling drugs.

Plaintiff's second witness, Thea McCaskill, identified herself as plaintiff's property manager. She stated that she received a report from Officer Sanders regarding both the sale of the illegal drugs at defendant's unit and the kicking in of her door. She testified that within a couple of days of this report, her office received a call to repair defendant's door and the repairs were made. As a result of Officer Sanders' report, she issued and served a 10-day notice to quit to defendant. This notice stated that defendant's lease would be terminated on March 8, 1995, due to material noncompliance with the lease agreement. The notice stated that the activity of selling and distributing illegal drugs is a direct violation of both defendant's approved HUD apartment lease and the lease addendum for drug-free housing, which warns that "a single violation shall be good cause for termination of the lease." The notice also stated that defendant violated the house rules and regulations, which provide that "illegal drug use, sale or distribution of narcotics in or about the premises of the property *** shall be considered a violation of the lease and cause for eviction."

Ms. McCaskill further testified that defendant came into her office to discuss the allegations contained in the notice within the 10- day period provided for in the notice. Defendant claimed that the comments about her were untrue and that someone was "picking on her."

Defendant testified that Officer Sanders and the two other detectives who accompanied him to her apartment did not break down her door. Defendant claimed that Officer Sanders asked her if she saw anyone with a gun. She replied that she had not. Defendant testified that "it was nothing about drugs," that no one had run through her apartment, and that she was cooking.

After hearing all of the evidence, the trial court entered judgment for possession of defendant's unit in favor of plaintiff, staying enforcement of the order for 14 days. On June 30, 1995, defendant filed an amended motion to reconsider and vacate the judgment. On the same date, the court denied the motion staying enforcement of the possession order for the period through July 14, 1995. Defendant filed a motion to stay enforcement of the judgment for ...


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