Printers Row condo owners complain tech company's humming noise is keeping them awake

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago condo owners say they have no peace and quiet in their own homes - and they blame a tech company next door that's creating a constant humming noise.

The residents say they can no longer open their own windows or get a proper night's sleep.

"There is so much noise I can't sleep at night or even focus in my daily life," condo owner Michael Gulik said. "It's like a mosquito is in your ear all the time."

"We turn on the tv usually, even when we are not watching it, just to drown out the noise," condo owner Karen Zhou added. "Sometimes my husband will sleep with headphones on, play music so he won't hear it. it's really bad."

Gulik and Zhou are two of the many residents in the 280-unit Printers Row condo building who say they hear noise all of the time. It's coming from a technology company, Digital Realty, which stores and computes enormous amounts of data for companies.

Digital Realty has added more roof top fans over the years to cool its servers. According to city records, their ground-level generators run the servers and HVAC system.

Gulik installed Plexiglas over his bedroom windows, but he said it hasn't helped much and cost him around $1,500. He says the constant noise and lack of sleep is too much and he can no longer stay in his own home.

He started a petition asking that the company find a solution to the noise that has been signed by more than 100 people. Gulik even dedicated a YouTube channel to document his struggles.

"I've spoken to the management in my building, my HOA, the company, the alderman," he said. "I reached out to Department of Health, the governor's office and the mayor's office, but it's going nowhere."

Both the condo association and Digital Realty did environmental studies in 2020, and both concluded they exceeded the sound levels allowed by law.

"You shouldn't have to get used to a noise that they are doing illegally," Zhou said.

311 calls made by residents prompted the city to come out and measure the noise earlier this year.

The city's Department of Public Health found Digital Realty's ground level generator noise exceeds the city's ordinance and fined Digital Realty $300. The company is also required to "come into immediate compliance with ANY/all code violations."

"They are a big company and I think they have the money to keep doing this as long as they just keep getting fined, they can just pay that off," Zhou said.

Digital Realty didn't want to talk on camera, but in a statement said they've operated the data center for 20 years and have "undertaken numerous initiatives to ensure a high quality of living for our residential neighbors." They "recently installed a 15-foot high sound wall, built to adhere to the requirements of the landmark department while also providing sound improvement for neighboring residents." The company added that it looks "forward to continuing to work with our neighbors and city officials to positively impact the community around us."

However, residents say that wall isn't enough and city inspectors agree. The I-Team found that Digital Reality was recently ticketed for those rooftop fans and will have a hearing at the end of August.

Residents said they want the city to test the rooftop noise levels again. They are working with lawyers and say they'll continue to fight for a solution. They say selling may not be an option, as they are now also worried about the value of their homes.
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