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Renters face eviction with minimum notice, then Foxconn, after inquiry, offers more time

Rick Romell, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on

Published in Home and Consumer News

After landlords started proceedings to evict four Sturtevant families on minimum notice to pave the way for land purchases by Foxconn Technology Group, the company took action to give the families more time to move following a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel inquiry about the situation.

Instead of the 28 days the tenants originally were granted in hand-delivered notices they received last week from two landlords -- one of whom said he acted at Foxconn's direction -- the company said it will try to let the renters stay for at least 90 days.

The events unfolded as Foxconn prepares to buy additional property just outside the area covered by a development contract the company has signed with the Village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County.

The impending purchase of about 100 acres had not previously been signaled by Foxconn or government officials. The land at issue is in the Village of Sturtevant, and is immediately north and east of the L-shaped Foxconn development area.

Four families -- two with school-age children and one with an adult woman and her 79-year-old mother on fixed incomes -- rent houses on the land. Tenants said late last week that they were surprised and dismayed to be handed letters telling them they had to clear out by Jan. 31.

"I feel like I'm living in a nightmare right now," Jennifer Le Viseur, who said she has rented her house on Braun Road for nearly 13 years, said on Friday. "... Like I've been slapped in the face."

Also upset was Veronica Roussett, who lives nearby with her husband and their two daughters, who are 7 and 8 years old.

"We felt like the notice was just sprung on us and we weren't given any type of option ... it just seems so unfair," Roussett said Friday.

But after a reporter asked a Foxconn spokeswoman about the matter, Louis Woo, top assistant to company chairman Terry Gou, said by email that Foxconn will work to give the tenants at least 90 days to find new homes and to move.

"Thank you for bringing this important matter to our attention," Woo wrote. "Although we have acted, and continue to act, in full compliance with the legal requirements of the options contracts negotiated with the landowner, we were not aware of the specific negative impacts of these actions on current tenants of the subject properties.

"Our local team has been instructed to meet with those tenants and ascertain all the facts with regard to their tenancy, and will in good faith attempt to find a legal means to allow them to remain on the properties for at least 90 days from the notice date.

"While we are focused on moving forward with this important project, we are also committed to doing it as responsibly as possible."

The Foxconn project, as is widely known, involves construction of a 22-million-square-foot electronics factory that could employ 13,000 people. To land the company, the state pledged $3 billion in public aid, and local governments will spend $764 million. The locals expect to recoup their money in the form of taxes on Foxconn's property and nearby development.

What Foxconn will do with the Sturtevant parcel isn't yet clear. The designated area for the company's factory and associated development is immense -- nearly 3,000 acres, or more than four square miles, and it's unknown why Foxconn would want still more.

Residents in the development area, which is almost entirely in Mount Pleasant and is covered by the contract between the company and local government, have protections that aren't immediately available to those outside the boundaries. Renters and homeowners alike in the area will have at least 90 days to move after their property is sold for Foxconn. And Mount Pleasant residents already have known since early October that they ultimately will have to move to accommodate Foxconn's planned mega-factory.

But whatever Foxconn's reason for seeking the land in Sturtevant, it isn't the only other property the company has its eye on.

The Foxconn-related entity that contracted to buy the land in Sturtevant -- a recently organized company called Adams Street Development, LLC -- late last month also bought 65 acres about four miles south, in Kenosha County, for $1 million.

Foxconn spokeswoman Genevieve Chow declined to say what the firm will do with the Kenosha County parcel.

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"The company is finalizing plans for all of its land acquisitions and we will provide you with updates as information becomes available," Chow said by email.

William C. Dexter, owner of 39 of the 100 acres at issue in Sturtevant, said Foxconn told him last Thursday that he had to give his tenants a 28-day eviction notice. He said a representative of Pitts Brothers & Associates, a Kenosha real estate firm that has been working on the Foxconn deal, also told him to promptly deliver the notices.

"The Realtor got a hold of me too (and said), 'They've got to be done right away, same day.' And I had to observe it," Dexter said.

Dexter's tenants said they received the notice around 3 p.m. Thursday. Members of the other three families -- who rent from a different landowner, Charles Kuiper -- said they also received their notices Thursday afternoon.

In separate letters to his tenants, including Le Viseur and Roussett, Kuiper told them they could stay rent-free for January, and would be reimbursed for any heating fuel remaining in their tanks when they left.

Dexter, of the Town of Yorkville, said he will be paid about $2 million for his land. He said he didn't like serving notice on tenants who had never missed a rent payment, but that Foxconn had exercised its option to buy the property, and he did as he was directed.

"They required it, so I did what I did," he said.

Kuiper, also of Yorkville, declined to speak with a reporter.

Dexter's tenants are Jamie Jensen, 39, and her 79-year-old mother, Jule Lotz. Both said last Friday that they live on fixed incomes -- disability for Jensen; Social Security and a pension for Lotz -- and that they doubted they could come up with enough cash for a new place in less than a month.

They said they also have dogs and cats, and need a one-story dwelling because of Lotz's difficulty with stairs -- two more factors complicating their housing search.

So they were relieved to hear Monday that they'll likely have another 90 days to look.

"If they follow through on that 90 days that would be absolutely terrific. ... That's like a godsend for us," Lotz said.

Le Viseur was pleased, too.

"The extended time is welcomed," she said. "Very welcomed."

(c)2018 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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