The journalist claimed he was kicked out of his condo unit over stories published by a downtown news website. This website, to be precise.
13-Oct-23 – Months after a state appeals court said an agreement enforced by a Marina City landlord was unenforceable because it had been signed under duress, that landlord has agreed to settle claims brought by a journalist that he had been illegally kicked out of his condominium unit because he published articles critical of the business activities of the husband of the president of his building’s homeowner association.
In early September, journalist Steven Dahlman and property manager and real estate broker Michael Michalak inked an agreement, ending years of contentious litigation over Michalak’s decision to not renew the lease held by Dahlman and his wife eight years ago.
Dahlman and Michalak had been in court against each other since 2018, when Dahlman first sued Michalak in Cook County Circuit Court.
Dahlman is the publisher and editor of the news site Loop North News, a local site that reports on news about people who live and work in Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods, including River North, Streeterville, and Gold Coast. This included news about homeowner associations at downtown condo buildings, including the Marina City complex, 300 North State Street.
According to Dahlman’s lawsuit, he and his wife rented condo units in the building from Michalak, including one that Dahlman used as an office from 2010-2014.
According to court documents, the Dahlmans annually renewed their lease until 2015, when Michalak allegedly threatened them and told them he no longer wanted them as tenants.
At that time, allegedly believing Michalak could jeopardize their ability to find another apartment to rent, Dahlman signed an agreement in which he allegedly agreed to not sue Michalak over the lease renewal.
According to court documents, Dahlman believed he was targeted for retaliation over articles he had published that discussed consumer complaints and a class action lawsuit against dining deals website Restaurant.com. The CEO of Restaurant.com was Ellen Chessick’s husband, Kenneth Chessick, who is also a doctor and lawyer.
Restaurant.com was sold in 2020 amid lawsuits and reports of large numbers of customer complaints and financial trouble.
In his lawsuit against Michalak, Dahlman alleged he had no tenancy issues, so Michalak’s decision not to renew the lease amounted to illegal retaliation, violating a Chicago city ordinance that governs relations between residential tenants and landlords.
Dahlman asserted Michalak had met with Ellen Chessick shortly before he refused to renew Dahlman’s lease. Dahlman noted Michalak admitted to that meeting in an answer filed in response to Dahlman’s lawsuit. Further, Dahlman has noted Michalak has never attempted to offer an alternative explanation for the decision not to renew the lease.
Initially, a Cook County judge granted Michalak’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the agreement Dahlman signed meant he could not sue.
However, on appeal, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court ruled in December 2022 that the agreement was not enforceable because Dahlman had signed it under economic duress.
Settlement talks followed, resulting in the deal to end the litigation.
Dahlman represented himself in the proceedings, with advice from an attorney. Michalak was represented by attorneys with the firm of Fritzshall & Pawlowski of Chicago.