City needs to put its house in order in protecting tenants

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In an all-too-familiar scenario, tenants of a Pilsen apartment building walked into court Tuesday freaked about a judge’s order to vacate their apartments by the end of the day — a piece of bad news most had only recently learned.

Their surprise was compounded upon learning that their landlord had been instructed in September to empty the building at 2022 S. Throop because of unsafe conditions — and instead continued to collect their rent payments.

The tenants walked out of court two hours later with a one-month reprieve and another court order — this one instructing the landlord to pay them each $1,500 to help find a new place to live.

For this Thanksgiving blessing they can thank the intervention of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, senior assistant corporation counsel Steven McKenzie and Cook County Associate Judge Mark Ballard.

The court order was accompanied by strong admonitions to building owner George Kokoris from both McKenzie and Ballard to take responsibility for the situation instead of blaming problems on his property manager.

“You’re the one who can be found in contempt of court if you don’t comply with the order. Do you understand that?” Ballard scolded Kokoris.

“Yes,” Kokoris said, although there remained some question of whether the landlord understood he was also still bound by a previous court ruling ordering him to repay the tenants their October rent and security deposits. By now, he also owes some their November rents as well.

Kokoris, dressed in a leather jacket and blue jeans, told me he didn’t want to discuss the situation.

“They order to vacate the building. What are you going to do?” he said.

Earlier, Kokoris had told McKenzie: “Everybody move out. I move them out myself all day yesterday. Only three left.”

But city inspectors reported 10 apartments in the four-story, 23-unit building still appear to be occupied.

And some of the tenants reported to me the only reason their apartments were vacant is that they returned home over the weekend to find all their possessions removed by the building manager — with no explanation.

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