By Jim Williams

CHICAGO (CBS) — Many landlords and tenants are taking a financial beating in the COVID-19 pandemic. One Chicago property owner lost thousands in rent, and his troubles don’t end there.

Robert Dickerson calls his two flat in Auburn Gresham his baby.

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“Re-did the first floor and second floor apartments in the hallway, put a lot of money into it,” he said.

Dickerson saw it as a good investment — until last year.

“Biggest problem is on the first floor,” he said. “She hadn’t paid rent since February of 2020. One on the second floor stopped paying rent in August of 2020.”

Dickerson’s two tenants both moved out late last year, without, he said, paying $14,000 in back rent between them.

“It’s been very stressful, extremely stressful,” he said. “It’s causing the problem with finances. It can cause problems in your marriage.”

But Dickerson’s hardship didn’t end there. In December, he was hit with a lawsuit filed by the two tenants.

“This is a fairly common case,” said Michelle Gilbert with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing.

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing is representing the tenants. Gilbert said Dickerson made the apartments unlivable to force out the renters — first, by cutting off utilities.

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“Causing the one of the tenants to lose the food in her refrigerator because the electricity was off for a long time,” she said.

Dickerson insists the electricity was off only for several hours while he repaired a gutter near a power line. Citing privacy rules, ComEd would not confirm either side’s claim.

The tenants also allege the front door was damaged and removed, leaving the apartments unsafe.

“Imagine being run out of your property because you’re afraid to sleep there,” Gilbert said.

Dickerson said he did not damage the door nor did he have money to make the repairs.

“Because then I hadn’t been paid rent by these two tenants,” he said.

“I’m sure there isn’t anyone in this country who isn’t frustrated by the pandemic, but that doesn’t allow landlord to act lawlessly,” Gilbert said.

The two tenants are asking for $40,000 in damages. Dickerson, an unemployed iron worker, says he has no money for an attorney.

“I don’t have $10,000. I don’t have $1,000, honestly, right now,” Dickerson said.

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He insists he was not trying to force out his tenants. He’ll now have to make that case in front of a judge.