It wasn’t long after moving into his two-flat on Harrison Street that James Balodimas noticed the smell. It was a mix of the foul odors he expected to find in a bathroom, including harsh cleaners, but it permeated both the upstairs and downstairs portions of the property.
As it turns out, the neighbor’s bathroom is directly behind a dividing wall shared by the two properties. While renovating the first-floor into a photography studio in the summer of 2002, Balodimas said the odors were overwhelming. He was even more surprised to find his neighbor’s gas line ran through his property. According to Balodimas, pockets of empty space in the walls around the pipe are drafting the fetid smells into his living space.
“I get headaches some days,” Balodimas said.
For years Balodimas said he has been asking the village to enforce its building codes but has grown frustrated with the perceived lack of enforcement. Beginning in August of 2003 he began hiring attorneys to draw attention to the structural problems that he said the village has ignored. His property at 7436 Harrison St. was once connected to several neighboring structures before being divided into separate units. The partitioning process was poorly regulated and explains why his neighbor’s gas line is in his house, Balodimas said, and now the village is reluctant to clean up the mess.
“The gas company needs to come out and move that,” Balodimas said. “The village needs to enforce that. The gas line doesn’t need to go through somebody else’s property.”
Director of Public Health and Safety Mike Boyle said his office hasn’t heard from Balodimas in more than a year, and wasn’t aware that problems might still exist. Balodimas contacted the Forest Park Review after reading a March 14 story regarding the village’s failed attempts to resolve a drainage dispute on Thomas Avenue.
When Balodimas was in regular contact with various municipal departments, Boyle said his office was responsive and forced the neighboring property owner to make improvements.
In 2005, building inspectors determined that the Suburban Fellowship Center, Balodimas’ neighbor, wasn’t venting its bathroom in accordance with the building code. A ceiling vent was installed and routed through the single-story roof–directly underneath Balodimas’ second-story bedroom window.
That work, of course, violated local building codes and was later corrected.
“We did tell the folks that they had to raise the height of the vent because the termination point was too low and too close to the window,” Boyle said.
According to Balodimas, it took four months for the pipe to be extended to an acceptable height. However, a letter dated April 29, 2005, from the Suburban Fellowship Center suggests the organization voluntarily corrected the problem about a month after Balodimas said the vent was installed on March 23, 2005.
Boyle said he was not readily able to determine when the vent was installed, but believes his office may have inspected the work in July of that year.
The fellowship center has no formal affiliation with Alcoholics Anonymous, but has used the property at 7438 Harrison St. since the early 1960s as a meeting place for those in recovery. According to the group’s vice president, Blake H. [last name withheld upon request], 57 meetings are held each week at all hours of the day.
“Ever since (Balodimas) bought the place he’s been at odds with us over anything he can,” Blake said. “We’ve done everything possible to make him comfortable.”
An attorney hired by Balodimas to pressure the village and the Suburban Fellowship Center acknowledged that his former client would rather not live next door to an alcohol rehab facility, but said Balodimas has a legitimate complaint. Jim Zahn of Sabo & Zahn in Chicago was hired to represent Balodimas for almost two years until September of 2005. In that time, Zahn said he encountered a stubborn village government that was selective in its code enforcement.
“(Balodimas) is active enough that he’s become an abrasive factor in that community and they’re fighting him tooth and nail by ignoring him,” Zahn said.
Solving the problem requires further investigation on the part of the Public Health and Safety office, Boyle said, which isn’t going to happen if Balodimas doesn’t call the village. As for the stray gas line, Boyle said that could be a symptom of dividing up what was once a single property.
Village codes would not allow any new construction project to encroach its utilities onto a neighboring property, Boyle said.
“By all means, call me and we will come over,” Boyle said. “Any deficiencies will be identified and they’ll have to fix it.”