South Side residents seek answers from landlord after months of threats, worsening conditions
The management company and the owner of the properties dispute residents’ claims about deteriorating conditions, saying they have been making improvements in recent months.
Alleging that they’ve endured months of threats and worsening conditions, residents from three South Side buildings are banding together to seek a meeting with their landlord.
Chatham residents living in 219 E. 79th St., 7908 S. Prairie Ave., and 319 E. 79th St., formed a tenants group last spring after their landlord stopped answering their calls, said Carlos Banks, one of the residents.
On Thursday, about a dozen demanded answers from BSD Realty Group. They stood outside a South Side office for the management company, but officials did not come out to speak to them.
Banks said the management company has tried to use scare tactics to drive people out of the buildings. He said some tenants have been locked out of their units while others have been threatened by a man with a gun who claimed to be security for the company. Inside, residents don’t have adequate heat and some lights in the communal hallways don’t work, Banks said.
In a statement, BSD Realty said they have communicated regularly with the tenant group through email. The new property owner made improvements and plans to install new boilers, the group stated. The current boilers are working to heat the buildings, according to the BSD statement.
“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 statement read. “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.”
BSD Realty in an email also disputed allegations about the lockouts, adding the group does not have armed security. The group did hire a watchman to call the police if anything happened at the properties.
Cook County records list M1 Realty LLC, based in New Jersey, as the owner of the building at 319 E. 79th St. A similar-sounding New Jersey-based company, M4 Realty LLC, is listed as the property owner for the building that has addresses of 219 E. 79th St. and 7908 S. Prairie Ave., according to Cook County clerk’s office records.
Both companies list a South Side address in records, which is a building owned by a different company. Eli Sieger, who is listed as an agent and manager of a New York-based company that owns that property in Chicago, said he is not affiliated with M1 Realty or M4 Realty. He said he did purchase 319 E. 79th St., 219 E. 79th St., and 7908 S. Prairie Ave. about three months ago, but the deeds hadn’t been recorded yet because of a “backlog.”
He confirmed that BSD Realty is now managing those properties.
Sieger said they have been working to fix problems in the apartments that existed before they bought the buildings.
“We’ve put in a tremendous amount of money in upgrading the quality of life and the quality of living in these buildings,” he said Friday. “We put in brand new boilers. We fixed leaks that were coming in.”
The change in ownership caused months of confusion for residents.
Last year, Marminta Dunnigan received a flyer telling residents that her building was under new management and it instructed tenants on how to pay rent. The flyer stated that a new management office was going to open Oct. 1.
By Oct. 11, Dunnigan received a five-day termination notice listing a different management company, BSD Realty. The notice came days after Dunnigan called Chicago police to report she had been locked out of her unit.
“I want BSD to be held accountable,” Dunnigan said Thursday. “Well come to talk to us because this (has) to stop. They are in the South Side of Chicago, (it doesn’t) mean that they can do what they want to do.”
JoLondon Jamerson, who has lived in one of the buildings for 18 years, said in recent months the building management has changed about four times. She thinks she at one point was paying rent to a company that didn’t actually manage the building. She had also applied to rental assistance programs but was unsure if her landlord ever received funds.
“They’re not doing anything, and we’re freezing in there,” Jamerson said about BSD Realty Group.
Jamerson said she sleeps with electric heaters to stay warm inside her apartment, and she gets help from her neighbors who carry flashlights to navigate the dark hallways.
The building at 319 E. 79th St. failed three inspections in 2021, according to the city’s Department of Buildings website. The most recent inspection happened in November, and the building was cited for failing to maintain the floors free from holes, failing to maintain exterior door frames, missing window screens and for issues with a brick, load-bearing wall.
In city records, 219 E. 79th St. and 7908 S. Prairie Ave. are combined as one property that city inspectors visited at least four times in 2021. Some of the violations from last year stemmed from a mice infestation, failing to provide adequate lights in the hall and stairwell, and missing fire extinguishers, according to records from the city’s Department of Buildings.
The front door of the Prairie Avenue building still has a disconnection notice from People’s Gas dated Sept. 10, 2021.
Banks said he wants a meeting with all the tenants and the building management or owner so that individuals don’t get different information. So far, residents have only spoken in person to people who identify themselves as security for the management company rather than the actual property manager, Banks said.
“We are looking for help and we seem to not be getting it from the people that we should be getting it from,” Banks said. “We have older folks in these buildings that cannot be walking around in these conditions, especially if they don’t feel safe with the lights out in the building.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.