Early Monday afternoon, the power at Stacey Schnaitman’s house suddenly shut down.
“I ran outside,” she said. “There was a man outside that told me, ‘This house is supposed to be vacant.’”
But it’s not vacant. Living at the four-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the 1200 block of Illinois Avenue is the Schnaitman family: Stacey, 37, and James, 39, and their children, Greer, 4; Cheyenne, 3; James Jr., 1; and their unborn daughter, Aslyn.
“My head is spinning,” Stacey said. “I have no idea where to go or what to do.”
The family is amid an eviction dispute with the landlord that could leave the Schnaitmans homeless. They say they’ve been paying most of their bills to landlord Ken Voegele, who says he has received no rent or utility payments for months. Social-service agencies have helped to pay bills for the family, which is facing challenges that include a recent job loss and a mother on bed rest with a high-risk pregnancy. Voegele says he just wants a tenant who can make rent.
St. Charles police were dispatched to the Schnaitman house at 12:46 p.m. Monday, according to department spokesman Paul McCurtain. Police said the landlord was trying to shut off the home’s water and electricity. Stacey Schnaitman said the landlord had sent a letter to the city saying the house was vacant and asking that utilities be turned off.
Voegele, a Geneva resident, said Monday that he had asked the city to turn the power off and that he was told it would be done Monday or Tuesday. But on Tuesday, he said that the power was never supposed to be shut off and that the only thing transpiring Monday was the utilities being transferred to the family’s name.
The city’s Utility Billing Division said, however, that power was turned off.
‘I tried to be nice’
Until last month, Voegele was Stacey Schnaitman’s boss at Studio 3 Productions, a wedding photography, videography and disc-jockey business. He allowed the family to move in after they fell on hard times in November 2008.
Rent was set at $895 via a notarized monthly agreement through the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission signed by Ken Voegele and James Schnaitman. A letter signed by Voegele and a landlord agreement through the VAC signed by both parties say the Schnaitman family rents from him.
Voegele said Tuesday that the notarized agreement is a forgery. He said there is no rental agreement between the parties.
“I told them they could stay there for a while (as) I’m trying to sell it,” Voegele said. “They haven’t paid me money, and I asked them to leave in October.”
Voegele said the house is now off the market and he is looking for another tenant.
Terry Crafton, a notary who stamped and signed the rental document, reviewed it Wednesday and confirmed its authenticity, saying he would have verified identification of both parties before notarizing it.
Stacey Schnaitman, who is 33 weeks into her pregnancy, said she worked as a telemarketer with Studio 3 until last month, when she was put on doctor-ordered bed rest. The baby is due in late December but may have to be delivered later this month because of complications, she said.
Stacey’s husband, James, a Gulf War veteran, recently started full-time work after being unemployed from June through September. For his new job as a forklift operator, James Schnaitman said he took a significant pay cut to $10 an hour from the $19 he was making at his previous job with a moving company.
Until going on bed rest last month, Stacey Schnaitman said she worked for Voegele since October 2008 at $8 an hour plus commission, all of which Voegele said he put directly toward the family’s rent.
During periods of unemployment, rent and utilities the family could not cover were being paid for by social-service groups such as the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission, Riverside Community Church, First Baptist Church and St. Peter Church, according to payment stubs from the family.
Stacey Schnaitman said the family is about $1,633 behind in payments. Voegele said Tuesday that the family is behind by $3,000 and that he hasn’t received any payments since at least August and has never received money from VAC.
“They’re not paying anything,” Voegele said. “I tried to be nice and let them stay there, but I have to rent it out.”
According to John R. Carr, superintendent of the veterans group, it has issued two checks of $580 to Voegele since August to go toward the family’s rent.
Contradicting what he said Tuesday, Voegele later said on Wednesday that he had previously received money from the VAC.
“When we couldn’t make rent, we always got assistance from people,” Stacey Schnaitman said.
‘Procedure has to be followed’
Stacey Schnaitman said Voegele has been trying to evict her family from the house with everything but a legal notice since Sept. 30, when he left a voice message saying he had another tenant and wanted the family out in 10 days. The date was later moved to Oct. 31 by Voegele, but the family was never served written notice and therefore stayed, Stacey Schnaitman said.
Stacey Schnaitman said she was told by Administer Justice, nonprofit legal-service provider, that Voegele needed to provide a 30-day eviction notice and that if utilities were turned off, she should call the police.
“We’ve been packing up,” Stacey Schnaitman said. “It’s his house, and he wants us to leave. We’re in no way trying to be squatters and live here rent-free. If you come to our house, there are boxes everywhere. We don’t want to be told you have to be out in 10 or 15 days. I just want to be given a fair shake, not phone calls and e-mails.”
Voegele said Monday he hasn’t taken any legal steps to evict the family because he “doesn’t want to be mean to them.” But on Tuesday, his tone changed. Voegele said his next step will be immediately serving the family with an 30-day eviction notice.
Kathryn McGowan Bettcher, managing attorney at the Prairie State Legal Services office in St. Charles, said landlords are required to follow a court procedure if they want to evict a tenant, even if the tenant is behind on rent or on a month-to-month agreement.
“It’s the same rights as if they had a lease,” McGowan said. “They can’t just boot people out on the street. Procedure has to be followed.”
Stacey Schnaitman said the family has asked to stay with in-laws temporarily, but to no avail.
“They said (for us to) live in a shelter, and I don’t blame them,” she said, adding that it would be hard for relatives to take on a family of five with another on the way. “I want to be given a normal amount of time to save money and get out so we don’t end up at a shelter with three kids and me pregnant.
“Right now, we have nowhere to go.”
An e-mail obtained by The Republican sent to the family last Thursday11/5 night by Sue Voegele, wife of Ken, warned the family that it would soon be without utilities.
“Hi Stacey and Jim,” the e-mail said. “Ken asked me to let you know that the utilities at the house on Illinois Street will be shut off next week.”
Robert Surratt, the city’s code enforcement officer, said Monday afternoon that he was just on the phone about the situation.
“I (told them), ‘Make sure you leave (the utilities) on,’” Surratt said. “People can’t use the city to do their eviction for them. They just can’t. We won’t turn it off to get someone out of a house.”
Utility bills for the property were in Ken Voegele’s name until Monday, when Stacey Schnaitman said she changed the Nicor Gas and St. Charles bills to her name, on recommendation from the city. According to documents obtained by The Republican, the family had previously been paying the utility bills via checks written to Voegele.
James Schnaitman said the situation has been nothing but destructive for his family.
“It’s pretty much destroyed my wife mentally,” he said. “This has pretty much put her over the edge.”
Even so, Stacey Schnaitman has tried to look at everything positively, with a child on the way and her husband back to work.
“We’ve been blessed, except for what’s going on (with the eviction),” she said. “I just wanted to get this story out there ... so people know what’s going on.”