A year after a fire at 1020 Desplaines Ave. (Nov. 17, 2018) displaced 18 families, at least 10 are still not back home in the building. Attention was brought to the issue on Nov. 7, when the current owners of the building expected to close on the sale to another party the following day. 

The current owners of the building, also known as Linden House, are George, Christine and Katherine Sellas. Linden House has 60 government-subsidized units, and the tenants are mostly senior citizens.

One of those tenants, Lawrence Gamble, who has been staying at a hotel in Oak Brook at the building owners’ expense, contacted the Forest Park Review on Nov. 7 to say that the sellers had rushed clean-up and sanitation of the apartments to get the residents back in because the buyer’s attorneys advised against closing on a property where residents were still displaced.

According to Gamble, he and other residents were told they had to move back in immediately so the sale could go through, but the conditions of the apartments were not move-in ready. He said the cleaners had piled items up to sanitize and left them there. Drywall was redone without the workers covering any of the residents’ possessions. In other places, drywall had been destroyed and not repaired. Mold was still an ongoing issue. He said the building manager told them they would be responsible for cleaning their own apartments.

Gamble added that some apartments don’t have the water turned on yet, and the heat in a few isn’t working.

“We want to get back into our homes, but not when they’re in this condition,” said Gamble. “The conditions are deplorable.”

“These are elderly people,” added Gamble. “Some of them are disabled. The conditions have been so bad during the past year that I had to wear a mask to go into my apartment to get things. You can’t bring people back into a situation like this.”

He said little to no work has been done on the building in months, and he was told by the building manager that HUD was out of money, so improvements couldn’t be made.

Gamble called Mayor Rory Hoskins on Nov. 7, and Hoskins contacted Village Administrator Tim Gillian and Steve Glinke, director of the Department of Public Health and Safety. 

“Gamble’s complaints are completely correct,” said Glinke. “The units cannot be reoccupied in this condition.” Glinke provided the Forest Park Review with photos of the units, including a picture of rotting food in an unplugged refrigerator and water-damaged drywall that hadn’t been repaired. “It’s disgusting,” he said.

Expressing regret that he hadn’t been harder on the seller and more hands-on, he said, “For a closing of this size, I should have been more intimately involved.” 

He has given the seller 30 days to get the units in move-in condition for the residents. “After that, I’ll be slapping daily fines on the building owner until he fixes the problem,” added Glinke, saying he would be monitoring progress of the clean-up and sanitization on a daily basis. 

“It’s a priority to keep people safe and get them back into their apartments,” Glinke said.

On Friday, Nov. 8, owner Christine Sellas showed up at the hotel and checked all the 1020 Desplaines residents out of their hotel rooms. She directed movers to pack up the tenants’ belongings and load them into a moving van, said Gamble. During this process, she received a phone call, after which she told the movers to stop. She then checked everyone back into the hotel and had the movers bring the belongings back to the hotel rooms.

“She told us to live out of our boxes,” said Gamble, “and to only unpack what we need. I guess that means we won’t be here long.

“The hotel they’ve put us up in is nice. That’s the one good thing I can say about this situation. But we just want to get back to our homes. It’s been almost a year.”

Gamble reported that several tenants, including himself, had items missing after the contractor hired by ServePro to fix the fire damage. A few have filed police reports, and Gamble himself plans to do so this week. 

Linden House experienced an earlier fire in July 2014, after which 60 residents were temporarily displaced. 

Although the building received a HUD inspection score of 97 out of 100 in 2015, the most recent score was abysmal. In January of 2019, Linden House was given a HUD inspection score of 24c*, which means that out of a maximum 100 points for health and safety, Linden House received only 24. The “c” indicates “one or more exigent/fire safety (calling for immediate attention or remedy)” issues were observed, and the “*” indicates “deficiencies were found with respect to smoke detectors,” according to the HUD.gov website.

The Sellas family, which owns the building, could not be reached for comment.

On Nov. 13 at 10 a.m., HUD and building management will be conducting an inspection of the units, according to a memo distributed to tenants.