Contact 2: River cabin controversy raises question about unique lease agreements

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JERSEY COUNTY, Ill. — From new carpet to air conditioning, Kevin Tanner steered a Jersey County, Illinois, river cabin from rundown to renovated. In January, Kevin bought the cabin from its previous owner for $15,000.

“I met the seller, gave them the money for the cabin, and signed the final document. They turned it in. I thought we were done,” Tanner said.

Little did he know, the cabin commotion was only beginning.

“In June I got a letter basically saying get my stuff off the property,” Tanner said.

The Army Corps of Engineers owns this land and leases lots. So while lessees own their cabins, the lease offers them no vested property rights. The lease document details several scenarios where either party can terminate the lease.

“This was not done intentionally,” JoAnn Branger said.

Branger and her husband sold the cabin to Tanner. They say they thought the lease transfer was complete until the Corps told them they needed to have the document notarized.

“They said they returned the changeover of lease name to us to have notarized. We did not get that. When I received the letter that said the lease was being canceled, I contacted them and they said they were unable to change it. That they didn’t get any notarization back, therefore the contract was null and void,” Branger said.

In addition to the lease transfer issue, the Corps says the Branger’s did not respond to delinquent rent notices sent at 30, 60, and 90 days past due.

“I explained to them the situation. We’ve had illness in the family. There’s been a lot of things going on and we just didn’t get anything. She flat out wouldn’t change anything. That was it,” Branger said.

Tanner said, “I thought maybe I could work my way up and talk to a manager or something like that and pay whatever it is we need to pay or do whatever paperwork we needed to do to get it overturned. I didn’t realize they were a hard, fast no. There’s no way of overturning it.”

Branger said, “A little bit of kindness is all we’re asking for. Allow us to pay it late. Allow me to pay a penalty. But please, don’t continue this path of destroying everything that’s out there.”

Tanner said, “Can they terminate the lease on a technicality? Yeah. But is it the right thing to do? No. Absolutely not. They didn’t do any due diligence to contact us. it’s horrible. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

The cabin remains scheduled for demolition and the Corps has given no indication it’ll reconsider. The Corps told Fox 2 it made multiple attempts to reach the Branger’s to properly complete the lease transfer or collect rent.

Because the Corps never had a contractual relationship with Tanner, he wasn’t notified. It appears Tanner’s only recourse now is in court.

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