Several homeowners still displaced from Prospect Heights condos almost 1 year after fire

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Several still displaced almost 1 year after north suburban fire
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Several Prospect Heights, IL residents said they're waiting on the Willow Heights Condo Association for fire damage repairs almost one year later.

PROSPECT HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- Residents of a suburban condominium complex turned to the I-Team on Monday night after being displaced for nearly a year.

Owners say they're waiting on the condo management to make crucial repairs to common walls and other areas before they can fix the interiors.

There are no walls in several of the north suburban Prospect Heights condo units; you can even see into neighboring units.

"This is my parents' restroom, and the one right next to it, you can see the other unit. You can see four units just standing right here, and we're waiting on them to take care of the walls, so we can take care of everything inside. But, how can we start if they haven't done anything?" resident Carlos Vazquez said about what his family's condo looks like today.

It's been almost a year after fire and smoke damage displaced residents. The Vazquez family and others said the Willow Heights Condominium Association and the board need to rebuild the shared walls that connect the neighboring units and make other repairs before their own personal insurance companies can greenlight further work in the interior of their homes.

"There's no sense of urgency from the board. They need to do their job. It's just a shame that we pay association fees," said Vazquez.

"We pay association, we pay mortgage and nobody care," said Vazquez's mother, Dora.

While no one was hurt in the August 2022 fire, families in more than 30 units were displaced, and many lost all their belongings. There is significant smoke and water damage. Sixteen units are still uninhabitable.

Consumer I-Team Reporter Jason Knowles recently met the displaced residents to see how things were going.

Like the Vazquez family, these displaced residents are also paying their mortgages. And now, nearly a year in, their personal insurance policies will no longer cover temporary housing.

"Most homeowners do have homeowners' insurance they do have a certain budget. So, the budget for my parents was $2,500, and they used all of it within, like, three months, because the hotel wasn't cheap. They had to use two rooms, and I'm sure most of the residents had to go through the same thing," Vazquez told Knowles.

"For three months, we were in a hotel and our policy was for $10,000, and that's all," said displaced resident Margarita Petkova.

There are some residents who have been able to live in their homes. Still, there, they're also dealing with the aftermath of the fire.

Residents told Knowles they've been waiting almost 10 months for the common areas to be finished.

"We can't use our laundry facilities downstairs. We're dealing with all the water damage on the stairs ,and the carpet is still there, and they let us in without fixing. That, I was surprised, because you know who knows what's underneath the carpet? Mold? Yeah, we're breathing all this," added resident Rickee Skenandore.

The I-Team contacted the Willow Heights Condominium Board members and the president by email, phone and text. No one returned their calls or messages.

The board did send residents an email outlining their communications with the city of Prospect Heights.

At the end of May, the director of the Prospect Heights Buildings Department told the I-Team the city can only grant permits as fast as the condo board makes decisions, and he confirmed that 16 units are uninhabitable because the roof is unsound, the electrical has to be rewired and there are non-visible issues, like smoke and water damage.

The director of buildings added that Willow Heights Condo Board kept changing contractors and terminated its relationship with the property manager, causing more delays despite the fact that a demo permit was issued in May.

Vaszquez said, "It's hard when they think about going back to their home, cause, I'm sure they miss their home."

But, residents may be able to return soon. In mid-June, weeks after the I-Team got involved, major work began.

Workers were seen on the roof. Residents also sent us pictures of wood being delivered and pictures of work starting in hallways.

The I-Team checked in again with the residents, who said the work is continuing to progress, and the roof is repaired, but there is no specific timeline on to when they will be back in their homes. Many are still waiting for the condo board to repair those walls between condo units.