It took a trip to Housing Court, but as of Monday (November 9), the heat is back on in the 34 apartment units that are part of the Portage Theater complex on Milwaukee Avenue. For how long, is another story — although tenants have not been given notice (as required by law), the building is now in the foreclosure process.
“Eddie wants to get rid of us…,” explained one longtime resident who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation. “Eddie” is Eddie Carranza, the buildings owner. Residents say that since Carranza took over ownership of the historic building back in 2012, things have slowly unraveled. “He doesn’t want the apartments he only wants the theater,” another resident explained.
This is not the first time that Carranza has had issues with the city over property management. As the former owner of the Congress Theater, he was also involved in what was characterized as the deliberate neglect of the venue. In April of 2013, the city revoked the Congress’ amusement and liquor licenses, shutting it down. After a shooting outside of the Portage Theater in June of this year, Local Alderman John Arena said “This is exactly what I feared,” would happen when Eddie Carranza reopened the theater in June 2014. After the shooting, Arena said he would use all of the tools at his disposal to prevent the theater from becoming a nuisance. Arena is on record with the city’s liquor commission as opposing an expansion of the number of bars allowed inside the Portage Theater. Just this weekend, Arena visited the theater to discover what he described as “a recipe for disaster”.
Residents have cited multiple issues with the building management, including: hiring maintenance workers who are not doing their job, not responding to tenant requests, not providing hot water or heat for an entire week last month (it was shut off because of Carranza’s failure to pay an overdue gas bill of $87,870 — not to mention $33,215 owed for water service). One resident who has lived in the building for many years said that their tiles are cracked, paint is flaking because of the poor paint job, and water is leaking from the ceiling.
Management’s answer to the heating situation was telling residents to use electric space heaters, driving up their own electric bills, and causing frequent blown fuses. This is problematic because since Carranza took over the building, residents have not had access to their fuse boxes – which are located in the basement of the building – as required by the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance. Prior to Carranza the residents had a key that would have granted them access, but now the door remains locked and only management has access. When city building inspectors have been out to the building they have also been unable to receive access to where the fuse boxes are located. Tenants suspect that someone has illegally tapped into the fuse boxes.
In August, tenants of the building were asked to sign new leases, but were not given a copy, and still have not received one (as of November 9). The residents then received an invalid 30-day notice that their rent would increase by $100 or more. Tenants insisted that they had leases already and demanded copies, but were never given one.
Several week ago, in response to the deplorable living situation, some residents contacted Metropolitan Tenants Organization about forming a tenants association, but then backed down out of fear of retaliation. Carranza’s employees are forceful and aggressive when addressing tenant complaints. One involved resident told MTO “I’ve been approached by my neighbors and they ask me ‘why are you causing problems’ … I respond to that with another question: “are we suppose to live without heat and hot water?”
Now, after a one week shut-off of hot water and heat, they have reactivated their plans to organize. The decision to do battle with Carranza has not been easy for them, with many fearing the loss of their homes. Some residents are disabled, elderly and living on fixed incomes. A move would be devastating.
Today, the heat is back on for the tenants. Now, they intend on turning the heat up on Eddie Carranza.
For more information about this story, contact Miguel Jimenez at email@example.com