CHATHAM — JoLondon Jamerson slept in her living room for weeks, terrified the “bubbles” in her bedroom ceiling might collapse, she said.
But sleeping in her living room wasn’t much better, as her apartment at 7908 S. Prairie Ave. didn’t have heat for months, Jamerson said. On freezing nights, she used her gas stove and electric heater for warmth, she said.
“It’s horrible,” Jamerson said.
Residents of three Chatham apartment buildings say BSD Realty, a Chicago-based property management company, isn’t fixing shoddy living conditions in apartments they manage at 219 E. 79th St., 7908 S. Prairie Ave. and 319 E. 79th St.
Residents allege the apartments have mold, broken light fixtures, busted windows, rodents, bed bugs and asbestos. Sometimes they don’t have heat or clean running water. Ceilings have caved in, and wooden floors have buckled, they said. Sometimes the water is turned off without notice; when it comes back on, it’s yellow, one resident said.
Some also said they have been illegally locked out of their apartments and threatened by security guards.
Representatives of BSD Realty, who say they oversee the buildings on behalf of the owners, said problems at the Chatham apartments predate them. They began managing the buildings “approximately three and half months ago,” and any issues in the buildings before that date “had nothing to do” with the new owners.
The buildings are now owned by a New York-based company whose agent and manager is Eli Sieger, according to the Sun-Times.
BSD Realty said owners have spent abut $130,000 to address longstanding problems, like replacing old boilers and fixing a faulty heating system. Despite the ongoing repairs, property managers said heat in the buildings is functioning properly and they’ve worked with a tenants rights group to respond to complaints.
“These expenditures are to make sure that the tenants have the best and most reliable heating, and that there are no long-term problems,” the company said in a statement. “The owners have done and are planning to do a lot more, and they are committed to bring the buildings to the best possible conditions so that the tenants have a good and safe place to live.”
But residents say living conditions haven’t significantly improved since BSD Realty started managing the buildings. They want city officials to intervene and the company to meet with them directly to respond to their complaints.
Jamerson said the conditions aren’t fair “for us, our children and our community.”
“Where are the tenants’ rights for people to live like decent human beings in a community that we’ve been in all of our lives?” Jamerson said at the press conference organized by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. “… You can’t own a building and then don’t want to take care of it.”
‘You Know What’s Going To Happen’
Marminta Dunnigan, a resident at one of BSD Realty’s buildings, said she came home Oct. 7 and couldn’t get inside her apartment. Her door was kicked in, items were removed from the apartment and the locks were changed, Dunnigan said.
Dunnigan believes the realty company illegally locked her out of her apartment. She needed to get back into the apartment to grab her son’s medicine, but she was being forced out, she said.
“I called BSD. They told me they don’t know anything about it,” Dunnigan said.
The next day, she called police and a locksmith, she said. Then, BSD representatives showed up with security, she said.
Carlos Banks, a Prairie Avenue tenant, said people he thought were representatives of the property manager threatened him.
“They’ll come by at 1 or 2 in the morning and say you have to move out, and if you’re not out by tomorrow or whenever, ‘You know what’s going to happen,’” Banks said. “What’s going to happen? Now, I’m being threatened. No one feels safe when someone tells you something like that and they’re in your building.”
Tenants said they don’t know who these people are.
During the news conference, a man went up to the group and shouted at them to leave. One of the tenant organizers said they’ve seen the man in the buildings, armed and yelling at people and blocking them from getting inside.
Dunnigan said her special needs son is afraid to stay with her most nights because of the armed security.
When people are locked out of their homes, their furniture is usually stolen, Banks said. Tenants sometimes find their items thrown out in the alley, Banks said; other times, they might find a few pieces in vacant apartments throughout the building.
“It’s ridiculous,” Banks said. “They don’t want to be held accountable.”
In a statement to Block Club, a BSD spokesperson said the company has not illegally locked out tenants. The company did hire a watchman in response to tenants’ complaints about security.
It’s that watchman’s job to call the police if there is “any illicit activity at the building,” company officials said.
“… We don’t [employ] individuals who threaten our tenants with guns,” company officials said.
In response to tenants’ complaints about knocks on their doors in the early hours of the morning, the realty company said it’s “rare” that they visit tenants or knock on doors. When they do, it’s never in the early morning, company officials said.
“We know that the sheriff or the process server serve court papers to tenants’ homes,” company officials said. “There were several tenants that refused to pay rent, and we exercised our legal right to file eviction on them. Serving papers is not handled by BSD and is outside our jurisdiction, these servers operate on their own.”
‘We Want Them To Come Out … And Get These Conditions Fixed’
It isn’t clear when BDS Realty began managing the buildings. Company officials said it was October 2021 but residents said they began hearing of their involvement as early as July.
City records show a litany of problems. For example, the building at 210 E. 79th St. failed an inspection in July because of defective light fixtures, inadequate hot water temperatures, broken doors, rotting floorboards, chipped walls and other problems cited by tenants.
The Prairie Avenue building lists mice infestations, defective smoke detectors, leaking water, faulty plumbing and rotting walls in a failed inspection from May 2021.
A BSD Realty spokesperson said they worked to address all issues inherited from previous owners “in the most amicable way possible.” As of Thursday, “all claims have been indeed resolved,” the company said, crediting involvement from the Metropolitan Tenants Organization to help respond to the problems.
The problems persist, however.
Samuel Clendenning, community organizer with Metropolitan Tenants Organization, said even after the realty company said it turned on the heat, photos from residents showed frigid indoor temperatures in the middle of winter.
“None of the commitments they’ve made to me have been followed through on,” Clendenning said. “I’ve checked in with the tenants after they tell me the heat is back on, and I get photos of thermometers at 52 degrees.”
Residents also say the company rebuffs them when they complain. The company has met with tenants organizers and officials like Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), but balks when organizers ask the company to speak directly with residents, Clendenning said.
“The only person who they haven’t made commitments to [and] the only group that’s been involved since I got in were the tenants,” Clendenning said. “Those are the people who you should be making the commitments to first.”
Jamerson said Sawyer needs to help.
“… Roderick Sawyer, I voted you in,” Jamerson said. “Help us. Help us because we voted for you. I used my civil rights and I voted for you. Now make a stand, Roderick, and do something.”
Sawyer said his office will work with tenants to make sure they’re accommodated, but ultimately, it’s up to the city Buildings Department to sort out the situation.
“I think what’s happening with these buildings is totally unacceptable,” Sawyer said. “We expect landlords in our area to provide quality housing. Tenants need housing with heat and amenities. I support the tenants, and if they need additional support, they can reach out to our offices and we’d be glad to help them. We want to be kept in the loop.”
BSD Realty officials said they will meet “with the tenants rights organization and an agreed-upon tenant representative.”
Banks, the Prairie Avenue tenant, said they are ready.
“We want them to come out, speak to us and get these conditions fixed,” Banks said. “We’ll be tenants as long as they be a landlord.”
If the property management company decides to ignore their concerns and move more people into the building, tenants will be front and center, ready to set the record straight, Banks said.
“We need them to speak with us,” Banks said. “They are trying to evict us, but we’re not going to let nobody else come in the building and get treated the same way they treat us. We will be out in front of their building every day, and if they try to move somebody in, we’re going to tell them exactly what happened.”
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