By Dawn Rhodes and Julian Crews
7:11 AM CST, January 26, 2012
The city plans to go to court today to request an emergency repair order for a Lincoln Park high-rise apartment building whose residents are without heat and hot water because of a blocked chimney that allowed carbon monoxide levels to build.
The city's Buildings Department will ask a judge to appoint a receiver to take over repairs at the 14-story building at 2738 N. Pine Grove Ave., a department official told WGN-TV this morning. Building inspectors also will be sent to the site this morning, he said.
Owners of the building will be billed for the repairs, he said.
A letter from the property manager to building residents had said it could be two to three weeks before necessary repairs are made and heat is restored. The letter suggested that residents boil water for bathing, buy electric space heaters and "turn your oven on to supplement heat as needed."
The Chicago Fire Department was quick to take issue with the recommendation to use ovens for heat, noting that an open oven can start a fire and create dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
"The Fire Department is strongly against the use of an oven for primary or auxiliary heat to heat an apartment," said spokesman Larry Langford. "The oven is not designed to heat a room."
Courtney Ryan, who lives on the eighth floor of the building, which has about 170 units, also questioned the property manager's suggestions on how to stay warm until heat is restored.
"I don't necessarily need to be worried about myself, but what if (my neighbor) falls asleep with a space heater on?" said Ryan, 28. "What if he doesn't know how to light a pilot light? That's putting a lot of people in jeopardy."
The on-site property manager and a representative with the management company, Lakeview Associates, declined to comment on the situation.
The letter from Lakeview Associates to residents says that "major repairs are needed to restore both heat and hot water to the building" but does not go into what caused the problem.
A Peoples Gas spokeswoman said residents complained to the Fire Department, and inspectors subsequently found high levels of carbon monoxide in the building.
Peoples Gas was notified and shut down two boilers and three water heaters found to feed into a blocked chimney, said company spokeswoman Bonnie Johnson.
Inspectors with the gas company found carbon monoxide readings of 200 parts per million inside the building, Johnson said. Federal guidelines limit carbon monoxide exposure to 50 parts per million, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
Gas for cooking is still available in the building.
The letter from management tells residents that they can deduct the cost of an electric heater — as long as it's less than $100 — from their next rent payment. Langford cautioned against the use of space heaters, but said the risk can be minimized by making sure heaters have automatic shut-offs if they overheat or tip over.
The letter also says "there will be a rent concession to make up for" the inconvenience, of an amount yet to be determined.
Several residents were seen going into the building with newly purchased space heaters. Some remained stoic despite the loss of heat in the dead of winter.
"I took a cold shower today," said ninth-floor resident Jennifer Harris, 26. "As much as I tried to psych myself up for it, it was a fail."
Others were making plans to shower at gyms or friends' homes.
"This isn't Elizabethan England," said Francisco Benavides, 32. "There is no way I'm going to heat up water and take it to the tub."
According to the city Buildings Department, the building is among many built before 1975 that is not in compliance with updated fire safety codes and has yet to submit a fire safety plan that lays out how it plans to comply.
Dawn Rhodes is a Tribune reporter. Julian Crews is a WGN-TV reporter.
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