312 Tenants Union lead organizer Megan Franklin poses for a portrait outside the gates of her Kenwood Avenue apartment complex. She's opting to fight for better living conditions rather than move out of her home of nine years, as she's built a proud life for herself in the Woodlawn community, she said. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — City attorneys want a third party to take over repairs at a Woodlawn property where tenants have unionized for better living conditions.

The city sued 6610 S. Kenwood Residences LLC in Cook County Circuit Court in September, aiming to force the company to fix 41 code violations found at 6610-18 S. Kenwood Ave. during inspections in August. The lawsuit also seeks a $20,500 fine for each day the violations are unresolved.

The violations relate to electrical issues, water damage and mold, plumbing problems, missing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, leaks, roaches and rodents, according to court filings.

At least eight violations are considered “dangerous and hazardous,” including exposed wiring, an unmaintained emergency lighting system and open electrical boxes, according to the lawsuit.

Raphael Lowenstein is listed on mortgages and deeds as the manager of 6610 S. Kenwood Residences LLC, the company that bought the property in 2019, according to county records. The company shares a mailing address with 312 Property Management, which is run by Lowenstein and his brother, Ari Lowenstein.

As part of the lawsuit, city attorneys filed a petition for receivership Oct. 26, arguing the landlords “have failed and are not currently able or willing to abate the unhealthy and/or unsafe conditions in the premises,” according to court filings.

Neighbors hope the lawsuit and receivership push will force needed repairs and put an end to months of retaliation, as the Lowensteins are trying to evict tenants who unionized and withheld rent after giving proper notice, they said.

Tenants urged Cook County Judge Leonard Murray to take swift action on the receivership request at Thursday’s hearing, given the pending eviction cases.

Murray said he “will be mindful” of the residents’ situations, though he did not rule on receivership this week and said the eviction cases are not part of the city’s lawsuit.

City inspectors and Murray will visit the property Wednesday to see the progress of repairs and meet with residents about their concerns. The judge will also survey residents to understand their complaints and ensure the court has their contacts.

The next hearing on the receivership push is set for Nov. 16.

“Obviously, we want the receivership to happen immediately, but it seems like it’s going to take a little more time,” Dixon Romeo, a housing organizer with Not Me We, said after a hearing Thursday.

“The tenants are standing strong, and we’re standing strong with them to make sure all the stuff they’ve gone through is going to be addressed,” Romeo said.

The 6610-6618 S. Kenwood Ave. apartment complex in Woodlawn on Aug. 14, 2023. Neighbors in the complex have unionized as they push their landlord to improve their living conditions. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The Lowensteins’ company has completed “90 percent” of repairs and expects to “get all work done in next three weeks,” an attorney for the landlord said in court this week.

The company expected to handle all tenant complaints at the property “within the week,” Raphael Lowenstein told Block Club in August. The Lowensteins have repeatedly accused residents of refusing to allow repairs to be made, a claim repeated in court by their attorney this week.

“We have given multiple chances for management to access units,” 312 Tenants Union lead organizer Megan Franklin said Thursday. “The problem is, management entered units without notice — with people in their apartments — and this was a problem for months. We sat down with management to talk about why that was illegal and why they shouldn’t be doing that.”

312 Property Management-affiliated companies bought about 20 properties in South Side lakefront communities from early 2015 to late 2021. Residents in other buildings have complained about squalid living conditions, poor communication from management, utility shut-offs, lock removals and other issues.

In a case against a different landlord, city attorneys and major lender Freddie Mac have pushed for a receiver at the Ellis Lakeview affordable apartments in Kenwood.

Ellis Lakeview landlord Apex Chicago IL has successfully avoided receivership to date through a series of legal maneuvers, despite refusing for nearly three years to make court-ordered repairs amid sustained pressure from that building’s tenants union.

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