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Princeton Park Homes: Tenants suffer, Owners prosper

last updated on January 19, 2012 – 1:57 PM12 comments

For Marietta Murphy, the pastoral setting of Princeton Park seemed like the perfect place to raise her five daughters.  They could have the freedom to ride their bikes, and she could have a garden.  And rents at the South Side housing complex were affordable.

But nine years later, each of her girls suffers from respiratory problems, including asthma and recurring bronchitis, requiring constant treatment.  Murphy blames pervasive mold in her townhome – and a landlord who has done nothing about repeated flooding.

Standing water pools in the basement and mold permeates the air in her home.  Walls bubble from water damage, and lead chips falls from windows and door frames onto porches and into gardens.  Tenants are living in unsanitary and hazardous conditions while Preston Higgins Jr, the development’s owner, rakes in millions.

Princeton Park tenants are organizing to improve conditions, and they’ve filed a class-action lawsuit against Higgins over mold and lead issues – and violations of Chicago’s landlord tenant ordinance.

Built in the 1940s, the Princeton Park Homes complex occupies a six-square block stretch of land west of the Dan Ryan between 91st and 95th Streets.  A century ago, this was a rural area populated by Dutch settlers who cultivated the land for farming.  As African Americans migrated north and Chicago grew, the racial fabric of the neighborhood changed, and the new residents needed affordable housing options.

Princeton Park Homes were built to house black middle-class railroad workers and their families.  Today the complex is still almost entirely African American, filled with working families that pay market-rate rent.

The development maintains much of its original appeal.  Inside Princeton Park the city’s grid system is abandoned for curving streets and cul-de-sacs, and front lawns of townhomes are well manicured.  Princeton Park’s website boasts of the impressive gardens and fosters a healthy competition among residents vying for an annual garden and lawn award.

Princeton Park residents take pride in their yards, but their sense of well-being stops at the front door.  Residents report widespread problems with basement flooding and leaky windows and walls that cause mold to grow and ruin their belongings.  Children test positive for lead poisoning.  Rodents and insect infestations are plentiful.

Lakisha Jones, a single mother of two who’s lived in Princeton Park for two years, suffered six floods in just over a year.  A two-foot-high water line marks the height of the most recent flood in her basement.  Jones lost baby books and winter clothes, and she’s had to replace a washer – and then purchase a new $400 motor for the new washer after yet another flood.

And after her home was flooded with water contaminated by feces and decaying animals, she and her 9-year old son contracted bacterial infections that sent them to the hospital with oozing sores and fevers.

Today she doesn’t take any chances – industrial-strength bleach is a regular purchase and is used to combat the mold that creeps up walls and drips from her ceiling.  Each time it rains, Jones is nervous and checks each wall and window for signs of flooding.

“I feel like a hurricane victim, having water run down my walls,” she said.  She’s complained to the management office numerous times, but “Princeton Park has failed to fix any of the safe and unsanitary conditions inside the property.”

In their lawsuit, tenants charge that Princeton Park owners pass the cost of maintenance and repairs on to tenants in violation of Chicago’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance.

Under the ordinance, landlords are responsible for maintenance unless damage is caused by tenants; charges for general wear and tear should not be passed on the tenants.  But the lease at Princeton Park states that “Lessee must make his own repairs… at Lessee’s expense.”

It’s not for lack of money, with rents for nearly a thousand two- and three- bedroom units ranging from $650 to $800 a month, the owner takes in as much as $750,000 each month.  According to Dun & Bradstreet, Preston Higgins & Co. nets $1.9 million in profits each year.

Tenants charge that Princeton Park has turned the development’s hazardous conditions into money-making opportunities while allowing the buildings to slowly deteriorate.  In addition to their monthly rent, Princeton Park tenants pay for all repair and maintenance visits and all outside contractors.  Additional fees range from $5 to unstop a toilet to $45 to clean grease traps, and even more for security doors, wiring, or piping.  Tenants end up bearing the lion’s share of the financial burden for apartment condition and repair requests.

A year or so into her residency, Marietta Murphy’s kitchen sink needed repairs.  The aging plumbing system was overburdened and regularly flooded.  Princeton Park charged her for each maintenance visit.

“I have no idea how much extra they have charged me because its tacked onto the rent each month, and with additional fees and yearly rent increases, it’s hard to keep track of,” she said.

In addition to paying maintenance visits each time flooding occurred, Murphy has lost three washers and dryers and a deep freezer in her nine years at Princeton Park.  The owners don’t really care, she said.  ”The office told me there was nothing they could do and that I shouldn’t put anything of value in the basement,” she said.  ”They told me I should get renters insurance.”

Murphy points out several vacant homes where tenants voiced complaints to the management office and to Higgins to no avail.  ”You better believe Higgins is not living like we are living out here,” she said.  ”And if he were to come out here and live one month in the summer with the floods, he’d move out of here.”

The city has fined Preston Higgins LLC and Princeton Park LLC several times for code violations regarding flooding as well as noncompliance with lead abatement.  But for Higgins, as for many landlords, such fines seem to be considered a cost of doing business.

Tenants want the city to do more.  They’re meeting regularly with the Metropolitan Tenant Organizations and pressing city officials to help deal with the basement flooding proactively.

At a recent tenant meeting, several residents expressed concern about steps management has taken toward lead abatement.  When door frames in a majority of the townhomes were found to contain lead, maintenance workers tacked aluminum strips to cover the lead paint.  But tenants say the strips are flimsy and often fall off.

Tenants say they wish Higgins would work with them to improve their living situation.  They love Princeton park for what it could be – a safe, pleasant and affordable neighborhood that fosters community.  But they feel like they are investing in Preston Higgins rather than their community.

“I strongly believe that if Mr. Higgins would meet with this tenants once a month that this could be a much better place,” said Murphy.  ”Our rent is helping him go to Hawaii, buy luxury cars, and go to those five-star restaurants.  Without us, he would be having White Castle and McDonald’s like we do.”

Written by Sara Mathers and John Bartlett

Special Thanks to Princeton Park Homes Tenants, Cecilia Nemeth, Paul Bernstein, and MTO Staff.

Photo:  Mold in a second floor bedroom caused by flooding


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12 Comments »

  • Carmella says:

    I currently live in Princeton Park Homes… I move in Feb. 2012, When I moved in I purchased a washer and a dryer. My washer went out on me right after that April 16th flood and my dryer does not stay on without me putting tape on top of the botton. My basement has that stink smell and my kitchen sink been linking from the pipes since I moved in. My toliet is still running water from the bottom onto the floor and my window in my bedroom is leaking water everytime it rains or snow. SMH…I was so excited about living in Princeton Park because my sister lived there for many years and I could be closer to my nieces and nephew. I loved the idea of planting flowers and having barq’s out back. The problem I have with Princeton Park is that the do not follow through on work orders. My front door paint is chipping around from top to bottom. The lawn maintenance is poorly kept, They even cut down my rose bush, and ran over my water holes with the lawn machine. Mrs. Yvonne is no longer there, and we have this new fellow name Anthony Jackson… He is very rude, the rudest man I ever met… I have held my touge with him so many times. Usely when a tenant iss short on thier rent they can go and tell the clerk the reason and she will note it in the system. Now we have to talk to Mr. Jackson to make signed payment arrangment. After the five day notice you have til those five days to pay your rent if not he/Mr. Jackson will be taking you to court in that same month. SMH… I know my tenants rights just a little bit but my question is can I file a class-action law suit? And, how do I go about doing so. Please email me at anytime at carmellabch@gmail.com. Thanks, P.S. they still charge for work order…

  • I too, live in Princeton Park. I moved in around 2008 and I have mold/mildew, water in my basement every time it rings. I also lost a washer and dryer and a deep freezer, too. The owners don’t care, ”The office told me there was nothing they could do about the issues I lost and I should not put value in the basement,” but I feel that I am paying for the basement to so I should ne able to use it. ”They told me I should get renters insurance, but it not the insurance that is needed they need to do some work on the units. I too, have call the office for work that is needed does, because no one has responded and if they did I have to pay for the work.

  • Ms Ligaya K says:

    I lived in Princeton Park Homes from 2007 to 2012. Some of the concerns others have already expressed are also some of the reasons I moved out. When you first move in, it’s pretty bare; concrete floors everywhere except the bathroom and kitchen. The kids and I did get sick (asthma/breathing issues)often probably because of the mold/mildew,the constant invasion of roaches and lead in the unit. The roaches got worse and crawed through vents. At the time, they charged you to exterminate but since we had pets, nothing that was pet friendly, so I went on my own trying to combat the problem to no avail. Our basement didn’t flood often but it did from time to time. Circuits constantly overloading and shortening with just a few plugs in the walls(probably due for a re-wiring). Also, you had to pay for ALL repairs needed in the unit after you moved in. I had a worn out toilet when I moved into my unit. Instead of them providing a new toilet, they continued fixing on the worn out one and received a bill to pay when the maintenance guys fixed it. I didn’t understand why we, as tenants, had to pay to fix on things worn out by previous tenants. They became pretty good in keeping the landscape once they changed Directors. She seemed to care more about it than the previous one, who allowed a bunch of weeds to grow all over the field, did. I was living in one of the best parts and some of the neighbors were nice and a few weren’t. All in all, it does depend on which part you live in but even with that, you still need to, from time to time walk in the other areas to get to a bus stop, restaurants and stores which is a long way from the end of the street near the tracks. My son got jumped coming from the store. My daughter was bullied from the public housing kids who lived around two to three blocks away in Lowden Homes constantly making their way within the Princeton Park Community. It was a mess although most of that drama happened within other areas of the Princeton Park community and not my immediate area. As you can see, my experience there was not good. However, others may have had more pleasant experiences there.

  • MRS. JONES says:

    We need a landlord who cares. Most of the units are flooded with roaches. There should be a spray inspection through the whole units every month. Instead we have to pay for a private exterminator to spray our houses. He should be the one with the priviate exterminator to keep bugs out of each apartments. Also he goes up on the rent every year. This is impossible in this economy now. That’s why there are so many vacanties. He needs to start caring about this tentants, especially the seniors who are still trying to stay and pay the rent. After all, they are on a very fixed income. ALSO GIVE MORE RESPECT TO ALL THE TENANTS WHO HAVE BEEN RENTING HERE THE LONGEST (LIKE OVER 20 YEARS).

  • Angela says:

    I’ve been served with eviction papers for not paying two months rent. However, I been calling once a week since october reporting waterin the basement and haven’t got a redponse yet. For the past two weeks I’ve been reporting a shortage in the circuit box according to comed, and still no response. why do they expect to get their money and not redpond to sny issued.

    • I understand your frustration with not receiving necessary repairs. The law will state that after sending the landlord a 14 day written notice regarding the problem that a tenant may reduce the rent to reflect the diminished value of the unit. Reducing the value to zero is not recommended. A zero valuation would say that the unit has no value. In any case you should consult with an attorney if you must go to court.

  • Courtney Wood says:

    To Neicey,

    Princeton Park receives those awards because there is a small section of residents who have been there for a long time and they grow their garden. Princeton Park is not a bad place to live. There are bad sections! I lived in Princeton Park from 2005 to 2011. We had problems with our basement flooding every time it rained. It was literally like Princeton Park turned into a lake. So if you had anything in your basement do expect to use it again because more than likely it will be damaged. There was word of a lot of break-ins in the neighborhood. We never had a break-in thankfully, but we knew who the little boys were that were doing it. I would not recommend moving there if you are looking for somewhere nice to stay. The only reason we moved their is because my great-grandmother was one of their first residents and we resided in her exact town home. All in all its not a bad place but I would not raise my children there.

  • neicey says:

    How does Princeton Park Homes continue receiving yearly awards from the Chicago Defender Newspaper doing the September Flower show ? Specially when their are so many tenant issues. The outside event is given because of the great maintenance of Mr. Higgins property . This is being written in the newspapers every year.

  • Berton Ring says:

    We welcome either positive or negative comments from each and every current and past tenant at this complex. We are especially interested in security deposit interest violations, terminations of leases after 6 months, Section 8 tenants and their interreaction with the landlord about maintenance and repair issues.
    Berton Ring’s law firm along with Paul Bernstein’s office is assisting on the Class action. The landlord is being represented by a major law firm in the Country.

    • Cathy Bright says:

      I’ve ben a tenat off & on since 1958. The Bright family moved here about 1953. There is a lot I would like to share. So please feel free to contact me

    • CHARLES BAUGH says:

      I WAS A 30 YEAR RESIDENT AND EVEN WORKED FOR PRINCETON PARK HOMES. THE APT HADN’T BEEN UPDATED IN 30 YEARS. I WAS BULLIED AND TARGETED BY AN ALCOHOLIC DIRTY CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER, WHO CONTINALLY DESTROYED MY PROPERTY. THE PRINCETON PARK OFFICE ILLEGALLY EVICTED ME INSTEAD OF THE PSYCHO COP. THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS DANGEROUS, THERE IS NO SENSE OF COMMUNITY. ALL OF MY BELONGINGS WERE PICKED THROUGH AND STOLEN BY PRINCETON PARK STAFF. MY GARBAGE CART WAS CONSTANTLY STOLEN. THE PRINCETON OFFICE DOESN’T LIKE TO PRINT RENT RECEIPTS. THE ALLEYS ARE MUDDY AND UNPAVED. THE PRINCETON PARK MANAGER EVONNE MCWRIGHT IS A OVER-PAID WEAK OLD LADY WHO HAS NO MORALS AND DOES NOT ABIDE BY THE LAW. ANYONE THINKING OF MOVING TO PRINCETON PARK WILL REGRET IT.

    • Ike says:

      I am currently renting from PPK Homes, this has been the worse experience in my life ! The basements flood every-time it rains hard, not just a little water I have swimming pools of sewage water each time. The tenants are responsible for the cleaning, and any costs accrue. My hot water tank and heater were water damaged, i called the office the secretary was nasty and rude ! they did not come to repair the items until I called 311 ! They sent a repairman at 8:00 PM, and were upset because I called. The homes are infested with water bugs, every time you leave in and out of your home, you have to spray them because they will not move ! The new manager Mr. Jackson is rude and ignorant, he is nice and sweet to you until you actually take a unit ! Slum Lord should be the name of the complex ! The owner is a multimillionaire but his properties are as bad as the projects !!!!! waste of my damn money

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