By Bob Uphues
The estate of a man who fell to his death while painting a wooden back porch at a Riverside apartment building in September has sued the property management company and the alleged owner of the building for more than $50,000.
On Sept. 4, Randall Schirmer, 70, was painting a second-floor back porch at the Tower Apartments, 22-42 East Ave. and 25-39 Forest Ave., when a hand railing gave way, causing him to fall to the concrete below.
He was discovered at about 8:45 a.m. by an employee of the property management company, who called 911. Paramedics arrived to find Schirmer unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Schirmer was a tenant of the apartment building, and police reported that he had been hired on occasion to do odd jobs at the building in the past. However, according to the police, the man identified as the owner of the building, Ronald Kafka, denied hiring Schirmer to paint the rear porch at the Tower Apartments.
The lawsuit states Kafka "owned, operated, managed, maintained and controlled" the building at the time of Schirmer's death.
Kafka has long denied owning the building, saying he is an agent or consultant to the real estate trust identified as the owner in Cook County property records.
On Sept. 7, Brian Schirmer, who is Randall's brother and administrator of his estate, filed suit in the Law Division of Cook County Circuit Court, against Kafka and Property Rental Inc., the property management company for the Tower Apartments.
The president of Property Rental Inc. is listed as Donna DiBrito in Illinois Secretary of State records. DiBrito for many years has been involved in companies associated with Kafka. She was not named individually as a defendant in Schirmer's lawsuit.
It was DiBrito, according to the Riverside Police Department's death investigation report, who discovered Randall Schirmer on the ground near the back porch he had been painting.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Brian Schirmer and Elise George, who are identified as Randall Schirmer's siblings. Attorney Timothy Ocasek of the law firm Cooney and Conway represents the estate of Randall Schirmer.
The suit claims Kafka and the property management company "carelessly and negligently" failed to maintain or repair the stairwell and railing and failed to warn tenants of its poor condition.
It also states the defendants should not have allowed anyone to use the stairwell and should have known of its poor condition, and that Randall Schirmer wrongfully died as a result.
The estate is asking a judge to order Kafka and the property management company to pay a sum in excess of the $50,000 jurisdictional amount, plus court costs. Judge Moira S. Johnson is hearing the case.
Meanwhile, on Sept. 6, Property Rental Inc. filed a building permit application with the village of Riverside to demolish and replace the three-story rear porch/stairwell structure Randall Schirmer was painting when he fell to his death.
Sonya Abt, the village's community development director, said the village has also ordered the property management company to give them a structural analysis of the other wooden stairwell at the building. Repairs to or replacement of that stairwell will depend on the results of that analysis, Abt said.
On Sept. 26, the Riverside Preservation Commission held a special meeting to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the porch/stairwell replacement as well as a host of other exterior repairs to the building, which the village had ordered earlier this year.
Those repairs include tuck pointing, painting, repair cracked windows and limestone lintels, repairing and replacing downspouts and gutters and building a dumpster corral, among other things.
The company had applied for a certificate of appropriateness for those repairs back in June, but approval was delayed after the village asked for additional information.
While the Preservation Commission approved certificates of appropriateness for all of the repairs, the village still has not approved the building permit for the rear porch/stairwell replacement.
Abt said additional information about the work is needed and that a structural engineer needs to sign off on the plans before the village issues the building permit.