KENWOOD — Residents of a beleaguered South Side affordable apartment complex are suing its owner and ousted property manager for allowing dirty and dangerous living conditions to persist for years before city officials intervened to bring in new leadership.
Tonnett Hammond, Karen Harrison and Ashley Salibellas filed the class action lawsuit Thursday on behalf of residents of Ellis Lakeview Apartments, 4624 S. Ellis Ave. The suit, filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court, names Apex Chicago LLC, Integra Affordable Management and property manager Andrew Swinkoski as defendants.
Ellis Lakeview tenants organized for nearly two years to force Apex and Integra to resolve broad disrepairs and squalid conditions at the 105-unit building. Residents have reported accumulating garbage, plumbing issues, pest infestations, security breaches, broken elevators and other problems since at least September 2020.
Read all of Block Club’s coverage on the Ellis Lakeview apartments here.
Apex bought Ellis Lakeview for $10.75 million in August 2019, according to Chicago Cityscape. The building failed 27 city inspections and racked up 158 code violations while under the purview of Apex and Integra.
A Cook County judge ordered Apex to remove Integra as property manager in June, but stopped short of bringing in a third party owner. 5T Management took over as manager to address the building’s security, plumbing, roof, elevators, missing smoke detectors, emergency lighting, drywall, windows, a vacant apartment contaminated with asbestos and other issues.
An attorney for the residents said in a statement it is time for the Ellis Lakeview neighbors to “get justice after personally living through years of well-documented neglect.”
“With this lawsuit, we hope to send a message to Apex and other HUD landlords that it’s not okay to make people live in these horrible conditions. They cannot get away with it. We also want to send a message to other HUD tenants, to empower them to fight against terrible landlords,” Harrison said in a statement.
Problems at Ellis Lakeview spread not long after Apex took over the property in 2019, according to the lawsuit and neighbors.
By late 2019, one of two elevators in the 11-story building broke down and wasn’t fixed for nearly a year, the lawsuit states. The elevators failed repeatedly in 2020 and 2021, according to the lawsuit, forcing residents to take stairs to avoid the spread of coronavirus.
There was poor water pressure throughout the building, a lack of hot water, dirty water and sewage backups into sinks and tubs dating back to at least November 2020, the lawsuit states. One resident told Block Club neighbors struggled to do basic household tasks and had to boil water to shower or wash dishes.
Apex and Integra did not start to fix the plumbing problems until this year, the lawsuit states. Once the work started, workers cut large holes in the drywall of all the apartments and left them open “for unacceptably long periods of time,” the lawsuit states. Apex and Integra also did not pay the plumbing contractors, who walked off the job with the work unfinished, the lawsuit alleges.
Residents had no working mailboxes from March to November 2020, the lawsuit states. Neighbors told Block Club the building manager and residents were responsible for sorting through mail, because mail carriers refused to place anything in the busted boxes.
Trash piled up in the hallways and common areas, attracting insects and rodents, the lawsuit states. A neighbor told Block Club so much garbage accumulated that the chute backed all the way up to the sixth floor.
Apex got rid of the building’s 24-hour security, failed to fix a lock to the parking lot gate for months and allowed the building’s front door to remain unsecured for months, the lawsuit states.
Apex and Integra allowed building-wide infestations of rats, mice and vermin to persist for more than a year, did not provide adequate heat for residents, painted over mold problems instead of removing it, did not fix a leaking roof for several months, and did not resolve persistent flooding inside apartments and in hallways, the lawsuit states.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cited Apex and Integra in early 2021 for failing to provide “decent, safe and sanitary housing,” saying the companies “demonstrated blatant disregard” for demands to fix the squalid conditions.
“As a result of these systemic failures, Ellis Lakeview tenants were forced to live in
[uninhabitable] conditions … ” the lawsuit states.
Attorneys are seeking class action status to represent everyone who lived at Ellis Lakeview between July 29, 2019 and June 8, 2022, which they say would be over 100 current and former tenants, according to the lawsuit.
The suit is seeking unspecified damages and attorneys fees.
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