Broken elevators and plumbing problems plague Hyde Park building, tenants allege in demand letter | Evening Digest

Tenants of a 10-story apartment building in Hyde Park are demanding swift repairs to longstanding plumbing and security problems, pest infestations and hazardous elevators – fixes they allege management has long ignored. 

Last Thursday, 44 tenants of 5110 S. Kenwood Ave. sent a letter of demands to the building’s property manager, Ivy Residences, alleging a decline in the quality of housing over the past six months while getting “the runaround” from management when they report issues. 

Chief among these issues, tenants say, is the inconsistent service of the building’s two elevators. Since August, only one elevator has consistently been in operation for the 93-unit building, though tenants say which of the two elevators is out of service frequently alternates.

For the past month, tenants allege in interviews and the letter to building management, both elevators have intermittently gone out of service simultaneously for a total of eight days. 

On two occasions when both elevators went out last month, multiple tenants contacted the Herald reporting that their neighbors, many of whom are older adults or have mobility impairments, were forced to crawl up and down the building’s stairs. Others didn’t leave their floors.  

“I had to help a paraplegic carry his wheelchair down six flights of stairs while I watched him crawl on his hands and knees to get out of the building,” said Kyle Hayes, a tenant of more than a year, in early October. “I had to assist an arm amputee with his groceries for five flights of stairs. This is unacceptable.” 

Four times in October, tenants alleged in the letter and interviews, the elevators broke down while residents were inside. In each instance, residents contacted the fire department to get out.  

“A resident got stuck in the elevator last night – It broke down after midnight when they were switching laundry and had a 7-month-old baby in their unit at home,” said Madeleine Greene, a tenant of four years, last week. “(The tenant) was trapped for nearly an hour.” 

In an email, Odessa Scott, Ivy Residences’ operations director, acknowledged the simultaneous outages in October, but alleged that it only happened three times.  

“Elevators do malfunction from time to time and we always notify our third-party contractors immediately upon discovery,” said Scott. “In each instance, one or both elevators were repaired and operational within 24 hours of the outage.” 

Asked about accommodations for tenants who cannot climb stairs, Scott said, “We of course will provide assistance to anyone requesting it and if necessary we will provide an alternate unit in another building for that resident in the event of a prolonged outage.”

But these offerings, tenants say and emails from the property manager show, were not communicated to residents. 

“Once when I called about the elevators to express concerns about elderly and disabled neighbors, I was told the maintenance team would help ferry residents up and down the stairs,” said Greene. “That was never proactively communicated to residents. They were just expected to find a maintenance person and ask for help.”

“They basically told us, ‘You’re on your own,’” she added.

In an Oct. 21 email notifying tenants that both elevators were out of service, Ivy Residences writes only:  “Once Elevator Car 1 is restored, please keep in mind that it will take on increased traffic and may take longer to arrive at your floor. We understand this is an inconvenience, but we are trying to accommodate those that need the elevator most during this time.” 

“If a resident were to reach out to us for assistance, we would communicate these options directly to the resident at that time,” Scott wrote in an email last week. “We are not aware of any residents who have utilized this.”

The building’s elevator problems began much earlier. Records from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) show the location failed inspections in April and November of 2022 for a failure to maintain elevator equipment in “safe and sound working condition.” 

In January of this year, a circuit court judge found the building’s owner, Pioneer 5104 Kenwood LLC, liable for the failure and fined the company $500.

But DOB inspections this past  August and September found that the building’s owner again failed to maintain elevator equipment. Pioneer was ordered to repair both elevators’ emergency phones and alarm bells, as well as perform a series of tests and upgrades mandated by the City of Chicago Fire Service.

The DOB took the company to court again in August, resulting in another $500 fine for failure to maintain the elevators in safe and working condition. According to a city spokesperson, no one appeared in court on behalf of the company, resulting in a default judgment. Now, per court documents, the company is appealing the judgment.

Meanwhile, tenants say they’re wary of riding elevators that have only undergone a series of quick fixes in lieu of city-mandated repairs.

“There are some days where I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m just gonna risk it and take the elevator and hope I make it to the bottom,’” said Isis Owusu, a tenant of one year. “Other days, like if I had heard that somebody had gotten stuck, I’m not taking it at all.” 

5110 S. Kenwood ceiling

A large hole in the ceiling of 5110 S. Kenwood Ave.’s foyer, Sept. 2023.

Water problems and package theft

Formerly owned by the University of Chicago, 5110 South Kenwood was purchased by Pioneer Acquisitions, a New York-based firm, in 2016. The building’s purchase was part of a package of 19 properties around Hyde Park – mostly apartment buildings – sold by the U. of C. to Pioneer for a total of $70.1 million. The following year, the U. of C. sold another 12 properties to Pioneer for a total of $54.9 million. 

Today, per the company’s website, Pioneer owns 18 residential properties in Hyde Park.

Since its purchase, the building has failed 29 of 33 inspections conducted by the DOB. Building code violations include an inoperable fire pump, a failure to complete an annual test of the fire alarm system and visible water damage to the ceiling of the building’s foyer.

In the letter to Ivy, tenants also demand repairs to persistent problems of leaks, mold and other water issues. 

Throughout the summer, a large hole in the ceiling of the building’s foyer – exposing pipes and wire mesh – frequently leaked during heavy rain, requiring the use of makeshift basins on the floor to catch water. 

In early July, Hayes alleged that he slipped on water that had leaked onto the floor from one of these basins, resulting in a back injury that required hospitalization. When he tried to reach management about the issue, he said he couldn’t get through to someone in charge. 

“Post my injury, I submitted a work order and called the property management office numerous times,” Hayes wrote in an early September email to Ivy Residences. “During each call to the management office, I was never able to speak with my property manager and was continuously transferred to a voice messaging system that wasn’t established to receive voice messages.”

5110 S. Kenwood Ave hole

Pipes and wire mesh are exposed through a large hole in the ceiling of 5110 S. Kenwood Ave.’s foyer, Sept. 2023.

Around the time of Hayes’ incident, tenants allege problems with their units’ water temperature began, as did flooding throughout units on the building’s second floor.

“In July, I had no water temperature regulation,” said Greene. “I’d turn on my sink and it would be boiling hot, totally unusable … There were many days I wasn’t able to shower in my unit, I had to shower at my friend’s place.”

“Every time I would go to management with a complaint and file a maintenance request, I would get the runaround,” she added. “They would make a repair and it would break immediately after.”

In photos from August provided to the Herald by a former tenant of the second floor, the unit’s kitchen sink appears to overflow with brown liquid; the unit’s floors are covered with a thin layer of liquid, causing the flooring to bubble in some places. 

In an email to the Herald, Ivy’s operations director wrote, “Plumbing issues do arise from time to time, especially given the age of the building. We recently hired a plumbing specialist who will be investigating and addressing any issues with the help of third-party plumbers.” 

In addition to repairs to the building, tenants are also demanding that a package service be reinstated. In April, management canceled tenants’ package service, Fetch, and has yet to provide a replacement. Instead, packages are left in the foyer.

Since then, tenants allege problems with frequent package theft, exacerbated by broken locks on several of the building’s entrances.

“I’ve had packages stolen within an hour of receiving a notification that it was delivered,” said Owusu.

In one case, Owusu alleged, a neighbor had her package stolen within 15 minutes of delivery. 

“Literally, in the time it took to go out of her apartment, go down the elevator and get it, it was gone,” she said. “It makes me wonder if we’re targeted at this point.”

In an email, Ivy management said package service was canceled because “we determined the service was not the best solution for package management.” 

According to Scott, the company has signed an agreement with Amazon to install a Hub package locker in the building in the coming weeks. The lockers allow for package delivery from other companies, but cannot receive large items. 

Since sending the demand letter on October 26, management has conducted two community meetings with tenants regarding repairs and other issues. Greene and others say that while they’re hopeful these meetings mark the start of more action by management, they’re frustrated by an alleged lack of firm committments to suggested repairs and completion dates.

“We just want them to be straightforward and proactively communicate with us,” said Greene.