HSPRD Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Hyde Park Tenants After Outage Displaces Them On Christmas Eve

HSPRD Press Conference | Photo: WGN9 Chicago News

HSPRD attorneys Caryn C. Lederer and Tory Tilton filed a class action lawsuit on January 18, 2023 on behalf of nearly 200 tenants of Algonquin Apartments in Hyde Park who were displaced on Christmas Eve and during a severe winter storm when their buildings lost all heat, electricity, and water. Many tenants were unaware what was happening or where they could go to be safe. Some slept in cars overnight, despite the dangerous weather, while others returned to their heatless and powerless apartments.

After more than 24 hours without heat, the City of Chicago Department of Buildings closed and evacuated two buildings in the complex. Many tenants could not access their email because of the power outage; for tenants who were still home or unaware, the evacuation was jarring. Fire Department personnel entered the building, using axes to open doors. The lawsuit alleges that MAC Properties, the entity that operates and manages the buildings, failed to go door to door to keep tenants updated, or check on their safety. Tenants were displaced for about three weeks, having to seek refuge in hotels or seek other accommodations.

“The Department of Buildings (DOB) released its findings, confirming that MAC Properties, who runs these buildings, caused the outage through improper, unpermitted electrical work,” said Lederer. “DOB found that MAC Properties transferred the building’s heat source from basement boilers to individual window units and this overwhelmed the electrical system.  MAC Properties did all this work without going through the City permit process—something which would have required plans and calculations about the electrical system. The permit process is designed to identify these types of miscalculations and prevent disasters like the one at the Algonquin. And this all came to a head during a life-threatening winter storm, reaching minus 40 degrees with windchill.”

Three former tenants of the building came forward and spoke about their experiences at the press conference at HSPRD on January 19, 2023.

Tenant Maxine Lathan stated, “When I lost heat, power, and water on December 23, I made it through the night by wearing multiple layers of clothing in an attempt to keep warm,” said Lathan. “What happened after that was weeks of poor to non-existent communication from MAC that affected my health, safety, and well-being. When I was allowed to return to retrieve some of my belongings–I found that many of my items, like a table, clothes, and my plants were damaged.”

Another tenant, Gabriella Johnson, was forced to find somewhere to go on Christmas Eve at 11PM, after a terrifying evacuation experience.  “I can’t believe the way Mac Properties handled this. For no one to knock on the door, for none of the Residential Services people to reach out by phone, is unthinkable,” said Ms. Johnson. “I was sitting in my house in gloves and a coat because no one knocked on my door and said, ‘Gabriella, it’s time to evacuate.’”

“One of the worst parts of the whole experience was walking down 13 flights of stairs with arthritic knees, in almost near darkness. I was petrified,” said Johnson. “If something happened to me, I wasn’t sure if anyone would come to help.”

Tenant Shaunte Sims said her children’s Christmas gifts were stolen after MAC Properties failed to secure the building after the evacuation order, when doors were forcibly opened and broken.

“We saw the email saying we had to evacuate the building. My kids weren’t able to open any Christmas gifts or anything–we barely had clothes to change into. Christmas was completely ruined,” said Sims.

Sims also painted a haunting picture of the building after the evacuation, a sentiment that was echoed by others who saw their property damaged while they were away.

“Security opened the door for me, and she didn’t check my ID or anything. I couldn’t believe they were just letting people in the building, “ said Sims.  “When I got to my door, I saw that all the doors were kicked open. I went to my apartment and I noticed that a lot of my things were missing. Someone had stolen most of the kids’ Christmas gifts…lots of my personal valuable items were gone.”

HSPRD filed the complaint, which is available here, in the Cook County Circuit Court.

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