The village of Riverside on Feb. 10 filed a complaint and an emergency motion for an injunction against the owners of the Tower Apartments in the village’s downtown after receiving calls from tenants that they been without heat since late on Feb. 7.
According to village officials and residents who spoke to the Landmark about the situation, tenants of the building – both residential and commercial – will be without heat until at least Friday afternoon.
“The village has told them they needed to move quickly,” said Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances. “It’s unacceptable and illegal to have a multifamily building without heat.”
In addition to filing the complaint in Cook County Circuit Court, the village has issued the owner of the building, which is a real estate trust, four building code violation notices for each day the building has been without heat. The village will be pursuing the maximum fine allowed for each violation, said Frances, which is $750.
Those citations will be considered at a village adjudication hearing scheduled for March 25.
The management company, Property Rental Inc., is in the process of replacing the boiler that provides heat for the entire apartment building, located at 25-39 Forest Ave. and 22-40 East Ave. The building contains 44 units, nine of which are commercial, according to the complaint filed in court by the village.
The Landmark left a phone message with a woman who answered the phone at the property management company Thursday morning. No one from the company had responded by that afternoon.
Riverside moved to file the complaint on Wednesday, because they believed they needed to force compliance. According to the village’s complaint, Property Rental Inc. was informed about the boiler failure by tenants on the morning of Feb. 8 but failed to take any action to repair the problem until Feb. 9, after village officials began making inquiries based on resident complaints.
A police report obtained through a Freedom of Information request states a police officer went to the property management company just after 9 a.m. on Feb. 9 to inform them of a tenant complaint.
At that time, according to the police report, someone at the office told police they “are aware of the problem and it is being worked on now.”
However, the village’s circuit court complaint states that the property management company “did not call [the boiler repair company] until late on Tuesday morning.”
The delay, according to the village’s complaint, “is evidence that Property Rental is not acting in good faith to make the repairs in a timely fashion.”
It was not until sometime on Feb. 10, according to the court record, that the company called in to assess the problem determined the boiler needed to be replaced. Workers were still removing the old boiler on Feb. 11, according to one resident, and the tenant was unsure when heat might be restored.
“They told us it won’t be fixed until [Friday] afternoon,” one tenant told the Landmark.
Sonya Abt, the community development director of the village of Riverside, confirmed that the repair company, Jacobs Boiler, had obtained permits to replace the boiler and that the village would conduct a final inspection once the work was completed.
Until that happens, building tenants will have to endure frigid conditions inside their apartments, resorting to space heaters and their ovens to provide a little relief.
One tenant told the Landmark on Thursday morning that she had remained in her apartment throughout the week, bundled up in multiple sweaters, a winter coat and layers of socks.
Even with a space heater brought over by a relative, the tenant said the thermometer inside her unit registered 48 degrees. Two other residents of the building, who did not want to be identified by name because they said they feared retaliation by the building’s management, told the Landmark similar stories.
One tenant had tried to use a space heater on Tuesday, but that blew a fuse to the apartment’s kitchen, knocking out the stove and refrigerator. As of Thursday afternoon, power had not yet been restored to the room, the tenant said.
That tenant had been using the stove as a source of heat, to the point of boiling water on the range top to get as much relief as possible. With that source of heat eliminated, the cold was unbearable. On Wednesday night the tenant stayed with a relative.
Another tenant turned on the stove to heat the apartment, setting off the unit’s carbon monoxide detector and resulting in a response from the Riverside Fire Department and Nicor.
According to the tenant, a rusty stove valve was the reason for the problem.
“I don’t feel safe using the oven,” the tenant said.
The boiler failure is just the latest in a series of maintenance issues at the Tower Apartments dating back more than a decade. In 2006, the village sued the building’s property management company after a second-floor toilet flooded a ground-floor commercial space, driving out a longtime business. The village dropped the suit after it was satisfied environmental remediation had taken place.
In 2018, the building management was forced to replace a three-story wooden rear staircase after a man hired to paint the old one fell to his death when a railing gave way. The victim’s family sued the owners and won a $950,000 settlement.