City, feds want south side landlord out as conditions in Kenwood apartments get ‘much, much worse’

KENWOOD — City attorneys want a judge to evict the landlord of a struggling affordable apartment building in Kenwood, and federal housing officials are backing the city’s request to put the apartments into receivership to deal with a litany of complaints.

Residents of Ellis Lakeview, an affordable housing tower at 4624 S. Ellis Ave., have been asking owner Apex Chicago IL to address plumbing issues, pest infestations, and other issues since September 2020.

Summit bought Ellis Lakeview for $10.75 million in August 2019, according to Chicago Cityscape. The building failed 27 municipal inspections and 158 code violations accrued under the supervision of Apex and property manager Integra Affordable Management.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development cited Apex and Integra for failing to provide “decent, safe, and sanitary housing” and for mishandling tenants’ finances and records.

Despite months of court orders ordering Apex and Integra to repair key systems and address quality of life issues at Ellis Lakeview, the situation is “imminently escalating,” said city attorney Steven McKenzie during a hearing on Tuesday.

City prosecutors asked Judge Lisa Marino on April 26 to appoint Community Initiatives, Inc. as receiver general. Community Initiatives, which partners with the city to administer the Distressed Buildings Initiativewould take over ownership and management of Ellis Lakeview from Apex and Integra if the receivership is approved.

Among the grounds for seeking receivership, city attorneys say:

  • Apex and Integra repeatedly failed to provide enough hot water.
  • The building does not have a building manager on site, after the former manager left his post last month. Retaining staff has been a challenge at Ellis Lakeview as the building saw four managers in 2020, residents said.
  • Security is inadequate, including broken front doors and gates to the property, which has led to non-residents sleeping in the laundry room and “roaming outside and inside” at night.
  • The building requires electrical repairs and upgrades to its fire safety system.

“It’s not just that things have stopped, it’s been rolling back,” McKenzie said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
The Ellis Lakeview Apartment Building, 4624 S. Ellis Ave. at Kenwood.

Court-ordered plumbing work at the building has stalled in recent weeks after plumbers twice stopped work at the site, residents said.

Tenants and tenant organizers said the plumbers walked off the job because Apex and Integra failed to pay, while an Integra representative blamed the delay on a contract dispute.

Plumbing risers remain in poor condition in about half of the building, City Inspector Manny Lopez said. This necessary project could have been completed or nearly completed without the work stoppages, he said.

“A lot of the units I went to inspect were the ones I originally said were correct, and now they’re not,” he said. “All these shower faucets, these faucets [and] toilets that used to work won’t work sooner or later, and it’s starting to show.

There were no “unsafe and unsafe conditions” during an inspection in late April, but low hot water pressure and “unsanitary conditions” are still prevalent throughout the building, Lopez said.

Apex was made aware of issues with Ellis Lakeview’s water system as early as November 2020, federal housing officials said last year.

“We’re in dire straits here,” Marino told Integra Affordable Management’s safety and construction operations manager, who was only identified by Natalie. “You have workers stepping down not once, but more than once, so obviously things are not going as they should.”

The manager confirmed that the plumbing work had been halted due to a financial disagreement, but “we have plans to get it back” to work, she said. She did not give an estimated date for the resumption of plumbing repairs.

Although there were no permits for electrical work in the building, the owners allowed untrained and unlicensed maintenance personnel to perform some electrical repairs, City Inspector Thomas Lynch said. The building operations manager confirmed that Integra did not hire a licensed electrical contractor.

“It’s not that Apex is doing its best to comply,” said Eric Sirota, a lawyer with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law representing the Ellis Lakeview Tenants’ Association. “They categorically did not follow the last [court] Ordered.”

Non-residents violently attacked Ellis Lakeview tenants over security breaches, Sirota said. A front door has not been properly secured since December, he said; and in January, residents said a gate to the property’s parking lot had been smashed months earlier.

The Integra manager first blamed the tenants for breaking the front door “every time we fix it”, before going back on her comments during the hearing and acknowledging the landlord’s responsibility to maintain Security.

“It’s very frustrating – we’re doing everything we can,” she said. “We hope to move to a key fob system in the near future.”

There are also smoke detectors throughout the building that are outdated or missing and need to be replaced, said fire inspector Bob Steffens.

The owners haven’t paid for water service since February and have racked up $19,475 in overdue bills, putting the building at risk of a water cut, McKenzie said.

The building received a gas cutoff notice on Friday after racking up more than $4,000 in overdue bills, though that debt has since been paid, the Integra manager said.

Given the living conditions at Ellis Lakeview, Housing and Development “fully supports” the appointment of a receiver, attorney Erin Gard said during the hearing.

US Representative Bobby Rush, State Senator Robert Peters and Ald. Sophia King (4th) is one of the elected officials who have supported calls for legal redress for tenants since last summer. Peters spoke on behalf of the residents and denounced the management of the building during Tuesday’s hearing.

Marino did not act on the city’s petition to replace Apex and Integra with community initiatives.

Scott Nehls, who served as counsel for Apex and Integra in previous hearings, withdrew from the case on Tuesday. Due to its withdrawal, companies will benefit from an interruption of the procedure because they hire a lawyer.

Apex and Integra will have new attorneys by the end of the week, said S. Joshua Kahane, a Tennessee-based attorney who attended the hearing at the building owner’s request. Kahane did not officially represent the companies on Tuesday.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 31, when Marino is expected to rule on the city’s receivership application.

Companies are “getting some breathing room” with the month-long break between hearings, Marino said.

“There is a time here, through which goodwill might be tempted to come through – if there is any left,” she said.

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