Apartment buildings on Desplaines Avenue. Alex Rogals | Staff photographer

The village of Forest Park will soon have 239 new rental units as the deconversion of five condominium buildings on Desplaines Avenue is underway. It would be 240 units, but one hold-out among condo owners resulted in all units except that one being sold. The closing date was Feb. 23.

The buildings at 1037, 1029, 1021, 1013 and 1005 Desplaines Avenue each contain 48 units and were bought by Emerald Empire, Inc., a New York based firm that “began acquiring multifamily properties throughout the Northeast” in 2013 and is now purchasing assets in the Midwest as well, according to the company’s website. They have, they say, “acquired hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of real estate and drastically turned around these assets and increased their value.”

The Review reached out to Emerald Empire, Inc. last week to find out their timeline and their planned rental rates, but no response was received.

According to Steve Glinke, Forest Park’s public health and safety director, who oversees building and zoning, the process of deconversion is a civil matter between the buyer and the sellers and is regulated under the Illinois Condominium Property Act.

Property sales, however, do require an application to and inspection by the village, and big-ticket items that need repair in these buildings include balconies, parking lots, masonry and certification of fire resistance separations. Some work is needed for individual units as well, including one-hour fire rated doors, smoke detectors in accordance with state law, automatic door closers and updated electrical panels.

“The market drives these deconversions,” Glinke said. “Investors are looking for places to park their money. To the residents of Forest Park and specifically those living in these properties it means significant improvements that otherwise couldn’t be accomplished without painful special assessments when they were condos.” The result, he said, is “objectively better, safer structures.”

Dana Perez, who lived in one of the condos owned by her in-laws, was all too familiar with those “painful special assessments” to which Glinke referred.

Perez said an original offer was made to her condo association, which included the two northern-most buildings, last March. (The other three buildings were part of a separate condo association.) But talks about deconversion had been going on for about a year and a half before that.

The buildings, Perez said, had multiple issues that needed work, including tuckpointing and a leaking roof.

Ultimately, the condo association her family was part of voted to be bought out by the buyer because the special assessments were too much.

“Just for a one-bedroom unit on the first floor, your special assessment was like an estimated almost $60,000 to $70,000,” Perez said. And owners couldn’t sell their units until that was paid. So deconversion was the better option.

The process was held up because of COVID and the difficulty of holding meetings, said Perez. Finally, a closing date at the end of November was decided. But that was put on hold because one resident, who didn’t want to go through with the deconversion, had filed a lawsuit against the condo association to put a stop to the sale.

Perez said the buyer tried making her an offer, “trying to get her to jump on board.” When they couldn’t reach a satisfactory resolution, however, the sale went through without her.

“So the buyer owns everything but hers,” Perez said.