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Porches Continue Rotting, Even After City Cites Them

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This problem-plagued porch has been cited by the city, to no avail. (CBS)

This problem-plagued porch has been cited by the city, to no avail. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) The city of Chicago tells anyone with an unsafe or dangerous porch to call 311 and they’ll send out a building inspector to check it out.

But even after they are cited for serious building code violations, 2 Investigator Pam Zekman found, cases against owners can get bogged down in hearings. The porches become more dangerous than ever.

The porch system for an apartment building in the 1900 block of E. 78th St. is a prime example. There are loose and sagging floor-boards, rotted hand rails and a staircase you can move with your foot.

“When is the city going to do something? It’s been in court for years. Are they gonna do something when a child gets killed?” tenant Maria Barlow complained. “The porch is just completely dangerous. No one can go out there.”

Barlow says she has complained to the city for years. This year, when she called she was shocked by what she was told: that it had passed inspection.

That’s not true. Chicago Building Department inspection reports show the porch was first cited for problems by inspectors in 2007. That triggered administrative hearings and subsequent fines totaling $1,300.

This August, the porch failed inspection again. The report determined the porch should be replaced. After CBS 2’s inquiry, the Building Department asked the Law Department to file a complaint in court.

Glen E. Cross, the building owner, did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment.

His porch and deck system is a disaster waiting to happen, but there are others like it all over the city that also have been in court for years.

Chanel Chambers also lives in a South Side apartment building in the 4300 block of South Lake Park Avenue.

“We were having a barbeque, and my aunt actually walked up the stairs and it completely fell through, ” Chambers said.

After her aunt fell, the landlord replaced the broken plank but didn’t make any other repairs. Today, the whole structure sways when you stand on the second floor landing. The hand rails are loose and nails stick up from the wood.

Beutonna Oates, the owner of the building, was first cited by the Building Department for deck problems back in 2006. The report pointed out problems like rotted columns and rotting wood — problems that persist today.

Oates ended up in administrative hearings, where she was assessed $550 in fines. After she repeatedly failed to fix the problem, the case was transferred to Cook County Circuit Court in 2008.

At Oates’ latest hearing, she got her ninth continuance in the last 2 ½ years.

Zekman confronted her about the why she hasn’t fixed the porch. Oates’ response: “Is there somebody who wants to give me a loan to help me out and I can take care of all those problems?”

She told the judge she has gotten a bid to replace the porch for $8,500 but does not have all the money she needs to start the work. Oates would not answer when asked how she was spending her tenant’s rent money.

Meanwhile, Chambers can’t understand why the porch hasn’t been repaired.

“As long as we’re paying rent she’s supposed to ensure our safety,” she said.

City lawyers have now asked the judge to appoint a receiver for Oates’ building. That’s the ultimate action the court can take to get a dangerous porch repaired.

But the judge gave the Oates until January of next year to raise the money to replace the porch system.

A spokesman for the city building department said the vast majority of porches cited are repaired or replaced in a few weeks or months. In the cases examined by CBS 2, the owners requested additional time to make repairs and the court agreed.

“Unfortunately,” the spokesman said, “the porches continued to degrade.”

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