Sheridan Tenants Fight Renovictions from Becovic and Next Realty

On the verge of being kicked out of their home, working-class tenants alongside the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union are taking action against landlords trying to kick them out. The tenants in the Sheridan apartment building that shoulders the Rave on Wisconsin Avenue demand a stop to the evictions, rent raises, and the gentrifying of their building by their landlords Becovic and Next Realty. 

“I don’t own a vehicle and I don’t have any family in the area. I’ll be homeless. I’ll lose my job without my home,” one Sheridan tenant told MATU. Mobilizing to organize with the building’s tenants, MATU canvassed the Sheridan and conversed with the tenants on every floor. Some were facing renovictions, some were already in “renovated” units with elevated rents (speculated to be raised double the previous amount), and even some were in the process of moving out. 

On the near west side, the Sheridan building is home to a diverse community of working-class people off of Wisconsin Avenue. Many of them are not only facing eviction but a specific type of eviction. Sheridan tenants are facing what the tenant power movement calls “renovictions.”  This is where a landlord uses the excuse of “renovations” to kick a tenant out to raise the rent. A good portion of the tenants in “unrenovated” units in the 55-unit Sheridan building have faced this.  From college students to an elderly woman, working and poor tenants have been bearing the brunt of Becovic and Next Realty’s pursuit of increased profit as they have passed out 30-day notices in waves in the Sheridan.

Who Becovic and Next Realty Are

Though officially owned by 2435 Wisconsin LLC according to public records, it doesn’t take much to find who’s behind the shell Limited Liability Company (LLC). With just a bit of knowledge of how to navigate the public property archives and some context on how landlords try to hide with LLCs, you will find the men behind the curtain. 4520 N Claredon Avenue Chicago, IL is the registered address of the property owner, which is the leasing and service office of Becovic. Becovic’s president is Sal Becovic, who inherited the business from his father. A gentrifying force primarily based on the north side of Chicago. Becovic owns the Sheridan through the LLC.

A little more well hidden is fellow Chicago real estate group Next Realty which shares in ownership alongside Becovic according to a 2021 blog post from the Chicago Becovic website and Next Realty’s website. The company was founded by its Chief Executive Officer Andrew S. Hochberg, a scion of the ultra-wealthy Hochberg family that owned the Sportmart retail store brand until it was sold to Sports Authority. (He and his father Larry are staunch supporters of the genocidal state of Israel, which has a 100-year history of displacing Palestinians from their homes).

Gentrification of the Near West Side

The near west side where the Sheridan lies is an area where real estate, developers, banks, city politicians, and a corporate interest group masquerading as a neighborhood group have targeted gentrification. This part of the city is home to a majority of Black and Brown working-class tenants but also enclaves of individual gentrifiers and investors preserving the old mansions of the local capitalists of the early 20th century (when Wisconsin Avenue was known as Grand Avenue). 

What “Renovictions” Are

Renovictions can look different from situation to situation as different places have different laws and regulations, but all have the same essential core feature. The essential part revolves around the landlord’s desire to make more money/profit by raising the rent.  To do that they have to kick out the current tenant, who is paying a lower rent, anyway they can. 

Depending on the place and the class of tenant, landlords have different “legal,” illegal, and gray-area tactics at their disposal to facilitate renovictions. In the case of the tenants at the Sheridan, due to state law, the landlords have the “legal” right to use a 30-day eviction to displace them, especially the tenants on month-to-month leases. But anyone who has paid attention to history and has a moral compass knows that a lot of the time what is “legal” is not what is right. 

Renovictions vs. Constructive Evictions Through the Lens of Tenant Power

Even though the terms “renoviction” and “constructive eviction” are used interchangeably, they are different despite dealing with similar exploitative and/or neglectful activity by landlords. Both deal with landlords either kicking tenants out with the renovation excuse or neglecting the property so much that the tenant voluntarily vacates. The differences between the two concepts are ideological, political, and legal

The “constructive eviction” concept originates from the legal realm, specifically as a reform of common law understandings of the contractual relationship between landlord and tenant. It is a reform in a legal framework developed in a capitalist system. Despite making things slightly less worse than in the past, the constructive eviction reform has been subsumed and made virtually useless to tenants (as all reforms not in the service to systemic change become) easily negated by landlords. 

The concept of “renoviction” grows out of the tenant power movement, which is the latest iteration of mass tenant movement in North America. Ideologically, Its legitimacy does not come from the legal system, as a good portion of the time, capitalist legal systems make renovictions perfectly legal due to the enshrinement of “private property rights”. Instead, the revolutionary politics of the tenant power movement argues that homes should be for the benefit of those who live in them and not the pocketbook of a landlord/real estate capital. However, its legitimacy is dependent on acceptance of the masses of people and that requires the movement interfacing with the wider movement for socialism and vice versa. 

What’s Right is to Fight

Similar to the rest of American society, in Milwaukee the law and government favor landlords and property owners while caring for little tenants, especially poor and working-class ones. No matter how “progressive” the city or state may be,  the law pedestals landlords and their “private property” rights over tenants. The reality is that the right to profit is unencumbered by concern for the human need for housing due to the power of profit in capitalist society. 

MATU does not believe what has occurred and is occurring to the tenants at the Sheridan right whether it is deemed “legal” or not.   We believe it is wrong, both morally and materially. The decision to move or stay should be up to the tenants. What’s renovated should be done in consultation with tenants who live there. Whatever money tenants have to pay to live in their homes should go to the maintenance, upkeep, and renovation of the homes that live in. Not to the pockets of the class of people who demand monthly tribute in the form of rent for what should be a human right. 

But the only way to make it a right is to fight. And we will, here and overall.

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